An Open Letter: Let's Start the Discourse Over on MOOCs
Dear Public Discourse,
It's a new year. Let's start over.
My favorite MOOC story of the year was written by Steve Kolowich, a reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He went to San Jose State University, ground zero of the MOOC debate, and he organized a meeting between philosophy chair Peter Hadreas and engineering lecturer Khosrow Ghadiri. Hadreas is well-known for leading a department that expressed strong opposition to incorporating MOOCs in their teaching, and Ghadiri is well-known for what appears to be a very successful adoption of some edX courseware in the residential course. They had a very nice meeting:
As it turns out, no fisticuffs or hot-tempered exchanges take place. No one accuses the other of holding back higher education or driving it into a ditch. There's none of the overheated rhetoric typical of online comments, op-eds, and other forums for jousting over what higher education needs in this time of technological innovation and economic upheaval. There's not, I learn, really very much disagreement at all.
It's kind of a boring article. Certainly more boring that "New startup ShivaEd promises to create MOOCs that burn higher education down to cinders and birth it anew!" or "Post-colonial, neoliberal video lecture cabal threatens to replace post-colonial, neoliberal textbook publishing cabal!" But boring in a "here are some sensible things to say about a complex topic" sort of way.
MOOCs are an interesting development in a decades old effort to leverage online tools in a centuries-old effort to create systems of distance education. I think we'll find some areas where high-scale, low-touch technology-mediated learning experiences work really well--probably places like introductory courses in statistics and computer science--and then we can re-deploy resources to places where high-touch matters more. When working with the toughest populations of students in remedial courses, there will be no magic formula, and lots of expensive high-touch will always matter more.
So here's to a 2014 filled with nuance, thoughtful critique, and small victories.
Happy New Year to all. Many thanks to those who have read these missives and corresponded with me over the year.