Some profs concerned with Coursera’s move into China

Last month, Coursera, a pioneer of massive open online courses, announced that it would begin partnering with a major Chinese internet company, opening the door to MOOCs for millions of students in China, The Daily Pennsylvanian reports.

For some Penn professors, Coursera’s announcement also opened the door to a host of potential problems.

As Coursera moves headfirst with open learning in China, a country where academic freedom remains a contentious issue, some faculty members are concerned by cases of MOOC censorship that may arise.

For these professors, many questions remain unanswered. Will courses on subjects like American democracy be taken down by the Chinese Communist Party and, if so, how will Coursera partners like Penn respond?

What about a MOOC on the history of China that spends several lectures discussing Tiananmen Square? More generally, does a MOOC professor have any less academic freedom in an online setting than in an offline one?

“These academic freedom concerns are real,” Law School professor Edward Rock, Penn’s director of open course initiatives, said. “I don’t think the right way to handle these concerns is simply to stay out of the market in which we’re likely going to confront them for the first time.”

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