Education International
Education International

Profs push back on MOOCs

published 31 July 2013 updated 1 August 2013

Professors at San Jose State University in California are refusing to use a Harvard-produced philosophy course developed by edX, one of the major providers of the controversial Massive On-Line Open Courses (MOOCs), out of concern the intention is to replace faculty with cheaper on-line education.

MOOCs are classes that are taught on-line to large numbers of students for free or at low-cost, with minimal involvement by professors. Typically, students watch short video lectures and complete assignments that are graded either by other students or by software programs.

The decision by professors at San Jose State to say no to MOOCs marks the latest salvo in a growing debate in the United States over how on-line classes could widen the divide between rich and prestigious universities that produce the courses, and the less wealthy ones that purchase them.

In an open letter explaining why they were rejecting MOOCs, the professors said they fear “that two classes of universities will be created: one, well-funded colleges and universities in which privileged students get their own real professor; the other, financially stressed private and public universities in which students watch a bunch of videotaped lectures and interact, if indeed any interaction is available on their home campuses, with a professor that this model of education has turned into a glorified teaching assistant.”

Meanwhile, faculty unions in the United States are warning that MOOCs threaten the intellectual property rights of members. The tradition in higher education has been that lecturers hold ownership over their courses and writings, but with the emergence of MOOCs some universities and colleges are trying to wrest control of this material in an effort to commercialise their courses.