The American writer H. L. Mencken once said that there is always a well-known solution to every human problem: neat, plausible, and wrong. MOOCs look neat, are plausible and … too many get it wrong!
MOOCs captured the imagination of venture capitalists, academics and university administrators and this is a rare thing for higher education, The Globe and Mail reports. The problem is that – despite exuberant enthusiasm surrounding them – MOOCs remain marked by many unanswered questions and still fail to clarify how they will deal with many crucial pedagogical and managerial aspects.
The Economist and The New York Times, academics and various experts in education proclaimed “the year of the MOOC” and that the end of the campus as we know it is certain.
The excitement around MOOCs became so extreme that anyone asking for the old kind of evidence-based arguments was pinpointed as an outdated conservative fighting against the Enlightenment. MOOCs promised to solve inequity and barriers to access, increasing costs and explosive student debt, quality assurance, sustainability, critical thinking, creativity and innovation. The magic of clicks and “innovation” was evident to all who identified with the progressive pack.
When Anant Agarwal, the President of edX (the MOOC consortium launched by Harvard and MIT) went to The Colbert Report to discuss his initiative, Stephen Colbert used his subversive humour to ask some questions that went unobserved by many university presidents and managers:
“I don’t understand” – Colbert said – “You’re in the knowledge business in a university… Let’s say I had a shoe store, OK, and then I hired you to work at my shoe store. And you said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s give the shoes away for free’… I would fire you and then probably throw shoes at your head.”