What if, the New Yorker asks, as a novice teacher or professor, you began a course and the entire class decided to leave—either from apathy or boredom or the popular student conviction that whatever is not a part of the lesson is inherently more interesting than what is? That old educator’s nightmare is now a digital reality: massive open online courses, or MOOCs, born a few years ago of the seemingly well-paired utopianisms of Silicon Valley and the élite American university, are seeing that classroom management can be a difficult task without a classroom.

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