[…] perhaps the most prominent motivation among professors at prestigious universities for teaching massively open online courses, or MOOCs, is “altruism—a desire to increase access to higher education worldwide.” […] After seven years of being within American academe, first as a graduate student and now as an instructor, I share that desire. […] But I don’t share the delusion that seems to be the basis for the excitement over MOOCs among my colleagues here in the United States. There is a dire need for some healthy skepticism among educators about the idea that MOOCs are a wonderful means to go global in order to do good.
As companies advertising their products, providers of MOOC platforms make grandiose claims and present themselves as visionary leaders of a new mode of higher education. As Coursera says in its “Our Vision” section, these leaders, “envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few.” Even more puzzling is the fact that when it comes to the “global” side of the argument, even serious educators seem to easily buy into the hype, perhaps because they are inspired (I almost said “blinded”) by altruism. That is, on general issues of teaching and learning—including curricular design and delivery, student participation and retention, and peer review and assessment—the academic conversation about MOOCs is now extremely rich, critical, and increasingly productive. But the excitement about the unprecedented access that people around the world now have to education from places like Harvard and MIT overshadows what should have been a topic of serious conversation: the intellectual barrier in spite of technological access. The elephant in the room is still invisible.
There has been some conversation about this in venues like The Chronicle. One recent Chronicle blog post discussed the “McDonaldization of Higher Education” and an article on InsideHigherEd summarized a few principled objections by researchers of international education. But among academics, there seems to be as yet nothing but the consideration of students around the world as statistical figures. As cited in the latter article, scholars of international education have always warned against “a one-way transfer of educational materials from the rich north to the poor south will amount to a wave of ‘intellectual neo-colonialism.’” But, again, because the MOOC movement is dominated by providers eyeing the world “market” for education, whatever they proclaim to be their motive, their attempts to make MOOCs “accessible” to international learners goes to show that they are either ignorant or unwilling to acknowledge geopolitical dynamics that shape learning experience on a global scale.
Via Peter B. Sloep