Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Anti-MOOC Panic

The flood waters in Colorado seem to have washed away my comments on yet another blog by a historian at a school (CSU Pueblo) I had never previously heard of. One thing these guys can't stand is dissent, even politely expressed.

I can't really blame them. They are trying so hard to convince themselves that MOOCs can't do anything right that any contrary message excites pure panic. They, the tenured profs, have a pretty good deal, even if they aren't exactly teaching at Harvard, and they have worked hard to get it. Of course that keeps them from understanding the real weaknesses of the MOOC or guessing the shape of education a decade or so from now.

Jonathan Rees, the proprietor of the blog aforementioned, likes to deride those who teach MOOC courses as "Superprofessors." It's intended as an insult, of course, but it has the ring of truth. Once upon a time, every podunk town in America had a pro or semi-pro baseball team. Television ended that, and the internet may well end a lot of the jobs at the less prestigious colleges. The global economy is a tournament, and in tournaments there is usually just the winner and the losers. Once students have the choice of a superb lecturer with an international reputation, will they want to listen to a substandard lecturer with a more obscure reputation, or even to a superb researcher who can't lecture?

To be clear, I by no means think MOOCs can replace all the funtions of a university. But they can replace some of them, and the change that produces will be dramatic - and traumatic.