Imagining an age of MOOCs

The MOOC era has dawned with a rush of utopian and dystopian bombast, much of which is bound to be wrong, Berfrois reports. A platform for enabling high-quality instruction over the internet will probably be a boon for higher education at large, even if it drastically changes the working conditions of many people in the profession. At the same time, MOOCs have demonstrated their value only in a handful of fields that deal in limited kinds of knowledge and assessment (and in those venues, as far as I can tell, they are not especially controversial). Much of the concern for MOOCs as a sign of the future comes out of the interpretive humanities and social sciences, where online instruction on a large scale is likely not germinal to the future. In these settings, what problem do MOOCs address: access? cost? quality? interactivity? pedagogical experimentation? Each of these assumptions describes a different rationale for the MOOC. Meanwhile, the arrival of MOOCs has coincided with the appearance of start-ups like Coursera, Udacity, and edX that have sponsored a promotional discourse about the entire phenomenon; critical evaluation of MOOCs has appeared tardily and against the trend of a rush of uncritical thinking.

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