Friday, August 03, 2012

Elite MOOCs -- Short Term and Long

The sudden eruptions of free MOOCs (massive open online courses) from the nation's most elite universities during the academic year just ended were coupled with the melodramatic fairy tale at the University of Virginia wherein a popular headmistress was summarily dismissed from Hogwarts by a gaggle of evil wizards because she hadn't mooked fast enough. But she was quickly reinstated; whereupon she promptly waved her wand, murmured "enhance the brand" and they all mooked happily ever after ... :-)

To MOOC or Not to MOOC ...
Yes, we can all agree with the "wise" skeptics that MOOCs won't cure cancer, bring peace to the Middle East, or reverse global warming. Nevertheless, free MOOCs from elite universities represent one of the biggest advances in higher education in the last fifty years ... assuming they are well designed. Among other things, free MOOCS will provide raw materials for widespread inverting/flipping of classrooms and high-quality, self-study materials for students enrolled in affordable, competency-based degree programs. Of course, the assumption that elite MOOCS will be well-designed is a big assumption, but a plausible one ... in the long run, but not necessarily in the short run.

When elite universities place free MOOCs on the Web's open bazaar, millions of potential students in every country in the world will be able to compare these courses to each other and to the thousands of online courses already offered by less prominent universities -- something that was never possible with the face-to-face courses offered at elite institutions in the privacy of their ivy covered lecture halls.  But nothing will spare the reputation of an eminent university whose MOOCs are judged to fall short of the highest emerging global standards. In previous times, the elites could brandish their superior research records and the high scholarship of their faculty as "proof" that their teaching must also be superior. They then used this questionable assertion to justify top-of-the-scale tuition and trusted their students to become loyal alums who would perpetuate the myths of their superior degree programs for the rest of their lives

... but to reference Harry Potter yet again: those that MOOC will lose their invisible cloaks ... :-(

Fading Away
I have no doubt that our best universities will be capable of designing the best online courses ... eventually. But in the near term, their previous disdain for online and their consequent relative inexperience means that they will have to travel up the same learning curves that faculty at less prominent institutions have been traveling for the last ten years or fifteen years. But the elites will be making their journeys in the white hot glare of the global scrutiny they brought upon themselves by their high-profile headlines; so the elites will have to run up their learning curves at a much faster pace. Nor will their vaunted reputations provide any royal roads or short cuts.

All of which leads me to anticipate that the next two or three academic years will bring forth a different series of correspondingly low profile, back page announcements, as one elite institution after another temporarily withdraws from the field under the withering fire of honest assessments of the inadequacies of their initial offerings.

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