Who are the rockstar professors of massive open online courses?

Much has been written about how massive open online courses (MOOCs) have given rise to a cast of so-called “rockstar professors.”

rockstarWhile rockstar professors aren’t actually a new concept, their star power has always been more-or-less confined to the campus where they teach — unless, of course, they get their own TV show, like this guy –>.

MOOCs, however, have given these other charismatic professors a global stage in which to teach and — for better or worse — to entertain.

Writing for the New York Times last year, A.J. Jacobs wrote that the discussion boards about those professors’ courses often read like a One Direction fan site, with students talking about a professor’s smile, voice, and clothing.

“The pop star analogy is not trivial,” Jacobs said. “While MOOCs are a great equalizer when it comes to students around the world, they are a great unequalizer when it comes to teachers. MOOCs are creating a breed of A-list celebrity professors who have lopsided sway over the landscape of ideas.”

Not everyone is so wary of the distinction, however.

At a panel discussion last year, when Anant Agarwal was asked about the hype surrounding MOOCs, he came out fully in favor of the rockstar atmosphere surrounding some of the professors.

“Absolutely, there’s been too much hype — and what a good idea!” Agarwal said. “If you and your colleagues have to hype something, what better to hype than education? For the first time, you’re going to make the teacher a rockstar.”

So some people are wary of the idea, and some are excited about professors’ new-found global superprofessor status. But just who are these educational celebrities, anyway?

Read on to meet five rockstar professors.


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