A Leading MOOC Advocate Reconsiders His Position

Gamification Course Verified Certificate - SmallIf you’re following the discussion around Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) and how they fit (or don’t fit) into higher education, you might find a September 3rd article from the Chronicle of Higher Education interesting.  It concerns a leading MOOC professor, sociologist Mitchell Duneier of Princeton, who decided to step away from the current MOOC environment when Coursera approached him about licensing his content for use by other institutions.  His chief concern is that this kind of “franchising” of MOOC content could encourage states to cut funding for traditional colleges.  And he’s right to be worried.

I admire the integrity of Professor Duneier’s decision. In both academia and corporate America, we’re all still figuring out how MOOCs fit into the blended learning picture.  And at this early stage, every high-profile decision could set a precedent.  As I noted in my recent blog post and podcast, I certainly agree with those who advise caution about the naive notion of viewing MOOCs as a “magic bullet” to reduce higher education costs.  But education costs are steadily rising, and in this economy being able to afford a quality education is a problem that seems likely only to worsen.  Given the advent of MOOCs and the persistence of economic challenges in America, the current educational model does need to change.  And after all, evolution is the most natural of processes.  So, what should we do?

While I respect Professor Duneier’s intentions, I don’t think that stepping away from the discussion is the way to move things forward. The conversation around governance needs to happen now.  Logically, when new policy needs to be shaped, we look to our leaders.  And the instructors who are most in demand are likely to have the strongest voice in helping to shape protections around how MOOCs should best be leveraged in academia–including how to protect funding for brick-and-mortar colleges (and their professors) at the same time.  Lawyers can always be engaged down the road as needed, when it comes time to formalize the wording of the protections.  I hope today’s leading (and let’s acknowledge it: pioneering) MOOC instructors can be persuaded to come together and form an independent governance board or amicus curiae consortium that will help shape recommendations for the much-needed guidelines.  It won’t be easy taming such an amorphous subject.  But it needs to happen.  I would certainly nominate Professor Duneier and also Professor Kevin Werbach of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to such a group of academic superheroes.  MOOCs represent  enormous learning potential–we just need to work together to manage that potential responsibly for the greater communal good.

Whatever your position on this question, the article from the Chronicle of Higher Education makes for thought-provoking reading.  Click here to read the full article.  Add a comment here to let me know what you think!