SUNY union leader says no to MOOCs

The new president of the statewide union representing SUNY New Paltz teachers has said no to credit-bearing or privately operated MOOCs, Record Online reports.

MOOCs, or massive open online courses, are an increasingly popular distance learning tool that allows thousands of people to participate in a single classroom course. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and the SUNY board of trustees have endorsed MOOCs as a way to graduate students more quickly and in the process save tuition money as part of new campaign called “Open SUNY.”

But Frederick Kowal, the new president of the 35,000-member United University Professions, said during a wide-ranging discussion with members of the Times Herald-Record’s editorial board Wednesday that MOOCs are not the panacea some educators are calling them.

“We’re not opposed to technology,” he said, “but I’m concerned when private corporations are doing the teaching that we do.”

In addition to questioning SUNY’s willingness to hire private contractors to offer MOOCs, Kowal said flatly that they don’t deliver what they promise, that they’re “all flash and dash” programs better suited to hobbyists than students trying to graduate.

Besides, he said, MOOCs that have a 10 percent success rate.

Still, he said, “It’s not a bad idea if offered as outside credit-bearing courses.”

Kowal’s concern over the education trend doesn’t stop MOOCs from being a part of SUNY in the future.

Kowal was critical of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s failure to include United University Professions in such decisions as the recent Start-Up NY plan, which would give 10-year tax breaks to businesses and entrepreneurs that locate within SUNY communities.

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