Instead of building networks, the neoliberal MOOC is driven by a desire to liberate and empower the individual, breaking apart actually-existing academic communities and refocusing on the individual’s acquisition of knowledge. The MOOCs being praised by utopian technologists in the New York Times appear to be the diametric opposite of what Siemens, Downes, and Cormier said they were trying to create, even if they deploy some of the same idealistic rhetoric. Traditional courses seek to transfer content from expert to student in a lecture or seminar setting. The original MOOCs stemmed from a connectivist desire to decentralize and de-institutionalize the traditional model, creating fundamentally open and open-ended networks of circulation and collaboration. In contrast, the MOOCs which are now being developed by Silicon Valley startups Udacity and Coursera, as well as by non-profit initiatives like edX, aim to do exactly the same thing that traditional courses have always done—transfer course content from expert to student—only to do so massively more cheaply and on a much larger scale. Far from de-institutionalizing education or making learning less hierarchical, some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world are treating the MOOC as a lifeline in troubled economic waters, leveraging “super-professors” to maintain their position of excellence atop the educational field, and even creating new hierarchical arrangements among universities.
May 9, 2013
As MOOC Debate Simmers at San Jose State, American U. Calls a Halt
By Steve Kolowich
In the latest salvo in a debate over MOOCs that has drawn national attention, the San Jose State University chapter of the California Faculty Association has thrown its weight behind recent criticisms of the university’s partnerships with outside providers of massive open online courses—specifically, edX and Udacity.
Meantime, on the opposite side of the country, American University has announced a “moratorium on MOOCs.”
Whenever David Brooks and Thomas Friedman begin singing from the same hymnal you can bet the next public policy catastrophe is knocking at the door. This time around theyve become boosters for online college courses as a panacea to cure the ills afflicting public colleges and universities. Brooks and Friedmans new interest in higher education means that Very Serious People are lining up to hand over yet another public good to the shock doctrine of privatization.