A MOOC Star Defects, at Least for Now - Technology - The Chronicle of Higher Education

abernard102@gmail.com 2013-09-06


"Mitchell Duneier once was a MOOC star. But today he's more like a conscientious objector. Worried that the massive open online courses might lead legislators to cut state-university budgets, the Princeton University sociology professor has pulled out of the movement—at least for now. After teaching introductory sociology through Coursera last year, Mr. Duneier extolled his experience in a Chronicle commentary. The New York Times featured him on its front page, and Thomas L. Friedman wrote about him in a column. One of Coursera's founders, Daphne Koller, plugged his course in a TED talk. But Mr. Duneier has now ceased teaching his sociology MOOC. The change of heart happened, he says, after Coursera approached him about licensing his course so other colleges could use the content in a blended format, meaning a mix of online and face-to-face instruction. That could save the colleges money. 'I've said no, because I think that it's an excuse for state legislatures to cut funding to state universities,' Mr. Duneier says. 'And I guess that I'm really uncomfortable being part of a movement that's going to get its revenue in that way. And I also have serious doubts about whether or not using a course like mine in that way would be pedagogically effective.' Now Mr. Duneier is taking a 'wait and see' approach. He calls his noncredit Coursera class, which reached 40,000 students from 113 countries during its run in the summer of 2012, 'one of the greatest experiences of my career.' He would teach a MOOC again, he says, given the right circumstances. 'I would like to see things move in a more positive direction,' Mr. Duneier says, 'but I'm not optimistic about that right now' ... Mr. Duneier's defection thrusts him into the contentious debate over college courses using MOOC content. The issue gained attention in May after philosophy professors at San Jose State University refused to teach a course produced by edX, the MOOC platform of Harvard and MIT. In an open letter to the edX course's creator—Michael Sandel, a Harvard University government professor and political philosopher—the San Jose professors warned of 'replacing faculty with cheap online education.'  Mr. Duneier's move also points to potential sustainability issues for the companies that champion MOOCs and the institutions that hope to rely on them. What happens when instructors decide to stop teaching their MOOCs, either because of ideological concerns or simply because offering a class to the whole world takes so much work? ... In response to Mr. Duneier's remarks, Ms. Koller e-mailed a statement saying Coursera is 'very supportive' of faculty members' using MOOC content to improve education. This can free up class time for 'meaningful engagement' with students, she says.  For example, she notes, several instructors in the University System of Maryland are using online content from Coursera and elsewhere in a course-redesign experiment.  The Maryland system is an important test case for researchers studying the integration of MOOCs into public education. One focus of the research, financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, concerns whether online materials can preserve quality while lowering instructional costs ... Meanwhile, thousands of students at California State University, at as many as 11 campuses, are expected to gain access to MOOC materials under a deal between the state system and edX, the MOOC platform of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard ... Mr. Duneier had received a twofold request from Coursera. One component was to 'license' his content to Maryland, free, Ms. Koller says. The other involved the University of Akron, which was seeking to license materials 'in a very small test pilot,' she says. But 'they ended up using the videos only, in a way that did not involve payment and was done outside the Coursera platform.'  Coursera, which rose to fame offering free courses to anyone, has more recently repositioned itself as a platform for credit-carrying courses. In May the company announced a series of partnerships with state universities. Those deals include provisions for licensing one university's content for use in others' classes. Coursera would receive a percentage of the revenue.  Mr. Duneier says that he assumed he would have been paid for licensing his course, but that he never pursued that question, because he wasn't interested ... It's unclear how many professors have been invited to license their courses. Another MOOC-teaching Princeton professor, Jeremy Adelman, says he has not been approached with an offer like the one Mr. Duneier received. Starting in September, he will once again teach 'A History of the World Since 1300' on Coursera.  Like Mr. Duneier, Mr. Adelman worries abo



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Date tagged:

09/06/2013, 07:50

Date published:

09/06/2013, 03:50