I love the Amherst faculty’s commitment to educational rather than “edupreneurial” (or edupredatory) values. To be sure, there was the huge issue of institutional mission versus the mission–so far as anyone can figure it out–of these unproven for-profit ventures we call MOOCs:
Some Amherst faculty concerns about edX were specific to Amherst. For instance, faculty asked, are MOOCs, which enroll tens of thousands of students, compatible with Amherst’s mission to provide education in a “purposefully small residential community” and “through close colloquy?”
Then there was the issue of the ill-thought out vision of edX itself, as well as the sheer incompetence on display in edX’s sales approach, compared to the thought that the Amherst faculty had invested:
EdX also tried to sell Amherst by dispatching representatives to the campus over the course of several months. Those trips did not assuage concerns and, at some points, may have inflamed them, according to faculty members.
Adam Sitze, an assistant professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought, opposed efforts to join edX. He said faculty members raised questions that edX “didn’t and in some cases couldn’t” respond to.
“Relative to the internal study of MOOCs that we did, edX was not persuasive,” Sitze said.
There was also the bald fact that edX put a $hitty offer on the table. Behold, the Underpants Gnome theory for how to make money on the interwebz!
There was an actual internal study by a nine-member committee of faculty and administrators. The 16-page report lays out the pros and cons of making a deal with edX. (The administration provided the whole document to Inside Higher Ed but asked that it not be shared.)
The report talks at length about how faculty members could use edX to experiment with online content and how difficult it might be for Amherst to try to replicate edX’s expertise. The document stresses that Amherst was being invited to pay to join edX for some costs — $2 million for five years, perhaps. Amherst officials asked themselves if they could chart their own course with a similar amount of money and found the risk of failure may be greater if Amherst was on its own.
Yes, you read that right: edX wanted Amherst to pay them $2 million!!! A-hahahahahahaha! Clearly, edX has more to gain with any partnership with Amherst than Amherst has to gain from edX, let alone to pay millions of dollars for that privilege! (Or is that in fact how MOOCs plan to make their money: pump the bubble up as high as they can so as to sell it to the suckers fall for their stupid pitch, take the money, and run? Sadly, it looks like they’ve had some success with this with other prestigious institutions, albeit mostly with institutions like the University of Virginia whose governance is not in the hands of the faculty but rather is in the hands of dumba$$ “business leaders” appointed by governors regardless of their ignorance of higher education.) To continue:
Sitze. . . compared edX and MOOCs to a litany of failed dotcoms, including other education ventures with similar ambitions. He said MOOCs may very well be today’s MySpace – a decent-looking idea doomed to fail.
“What makes us think, educationally, that MOOCs are the form of online learning that we should be experimenting with? On what basis? On what grounds?,” Sitze said. “2012 was the year of the MOOCs. 2013 will be the year of buyer’s regret.”
Finally, the Amherst faculty displayed unusual sympathy with educational values not just at Amherst, but with the effects that MOOCs might have on universities like mine. (And because they’re Amherst, their move will be noticed and perhaps embolden other faculties to reconsider jumping aboard the MOOC train.)
Faculty also worried about edX and its broader effect on higher education, particularly edX’s plans to grade some student writing using only computer programs.
“They came in and they said, ‘Here’s a machine grader that can grade just as perceptively as you, but by the way, even though it can replace your labor, it’s not going to take your job,’ ” Sitze said. “I found that funny and I think other people may have realized at that point that there was not a good fit.”
In its internal report, the nine-member MOOC committee also worried that “the MOOC format will perpetuate the ‘information dispensing’ model of teaching (e.g., lectures, followed by exams).”
At Amherst, courses are taught in seminars and students are never given a multiple-choice exam. In MOOCs, most exams are multiple-choice and written work is graded by peers rather than professors – at least until MOOC providers begin to roll out software to grade student writing.
Some Amherst faculty members worried about their peers at less elite institutions.
The internal report expressed concern that MOOCs will “take student tuition dollars away from so-called middle-tier and lower-tier institutions,” “enable the centralization of American higher education,” “intensify the tiered structure of American higher education” and “may exacerbate the star [faculty] system.”
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