In a recent post, Dr. Lloyd Armstrong writes: “Unfortunately, most of the push-back about using MOOCs so far has been about preserving academic freedom in teaching, and not about benefits to students. Perhaps that will change with time.”
I will avoid adding to the barrage of arguments about what MOOCs “mean to higher education” or how it will all unfold. But it’s interesting to note how the quality of the concerns from faculty about loss of autonomy in response to MOOCs resemble those made during the early years of online higher ed. Criticism in the mid and late 1990s defined the issue in essentially the same terms – as a challenge to embedded occupational models and the labour market value of faculty. This was a key facet of David Noble’s argument: online education, to him, was about the inevitable narrowing and deskilling of faculty labour. This view of online education, though, seemed to fade during the last 10 or 12 years, as faculty saw that universities continue to employ the traditional one course = one instructor model – the classroom model. (The maintenance of the classroom model had less to do with the sector’s pursuit of the best instructional strategies for online courses and more to do with limited imagination and the challenges of restructuring labour in a conservative, decentralized institution.)
Concerns about autonomy and labour market value is clearly evident in a recent paper entitled The Predatory Pedagogy of On-Line Education. It lays out ten reasons for opposing the growing emphasis on online edu, touching on issues such as the greater potential for surveillance of faculty labour and the growing role of private businesses. It’s worth a read if you are interested in the politics of higher education. However, the essay is limited by its focus on the needs and interests of faculty. It downplays or outright ignores the value of online learning to students and other stakeholders (instructional, financial, etc). Moreover, it somehow manages to paint faculty as mere victims; a proletarian class under the thumb of administrators and commercial interests. While I’m schooled in the logic of Critical Theory and recognize its’ value, its’ application in this case focusses more on the labour market value of the people practicing critical theory than the people and society that the labour is designed to serve.
The essay begins by citing a speech by Josh Coates, CEO of Instructure (below).