Observers say the San Jose State University (SJSU) faculty backlash against the school’s adoption of massive open online courses (MOOCs) could set a precedent for blocking technology adoption in higher education.


SJSU faculty want more say in the school’s technology initiatives.

SJSU’s Academic Senate voted overwhelmingly Nov. 18 to request an independent review of the university’s governance after many faculty members publicly opposed the school’s planned use of the experiment MOOC platform that has put SJSU at the forefront of MOOC experimentation.

Faculty leaders have said the Academic Senate should have a say in all technology-related university partnerships.

SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi said in a statement that administrators would “do all we can to support the Chancellor’s Office in responding to this request.”

Once heralded by California governor as a “game changer” for higher education, SJSU’s MOOC initiative was put on hold in August when as much as 75 percent of students were failing some of the courses. Faculty members lashed out at the online courses as a watering down of the university’s degree programs.

Michelle Rhee-Weise, senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, said a move toward faculty governance would serve as a considerable roadblock for educational technology.

“Faculty governance is often at odds with rapid innovation. Often when you get a consensus among faculty, the consensus is to maintain the status quo,” she said. “It’s very difficult to enact change to any real extent. … It’s a little disappointing to see the extreme reaction on the part of the faculty. It’s going to be very difficult for the university to brace for change if they’re so resistant to the idea of experimentation.”

Educators can join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #eCNMOOCs.

The need for academic input and approval for adoption of educational technology, the Academic Senate resolution said, has been made clear by on-campus strife related to the school’s move toward Udacity MOOCs.

“A series of conflicts over the last year has highlighted issues related to communication and transparency, has opened serious rifts in our shared sense of community, and has contributed to extremely low morale,” the SJSU resolution read. “A fresh look at the SJSU situation from outside the campus could help to diagnose problems and identify solutions.”

A survey of SJSU MOOC participants found that 39 percent had never previously taken an online course. Fewer than half the students knew that support services were available online if they needed help.

The students used the Udacity website for coursework and exams but weren’t aware that grades would be posted on the San Jose website, the report said. In addition, many students were left in the dark because eMails failed to reach them, according to the study.

Rhee-Weise said the widespread belief that educational technology serves as a barrier between educators and their students has in large part driven the opposition to MOOCs in higher education.

“The hard part about this is that there is so much territoriality and warfare, and there’s a sense that technology is intruding into the space of faculty-student interaction,” she said. “But in a really exciting way, technology can actually enhance that interaction. But if faculty are so resistant, there’s no way they’re going to see the benefits of those technology advancements.”

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