Professor Snarks: Should Coursera Offer a Course on Itself?

A massive online open course about one of the biggest providers of massive online open courses? According Bob Meister, who teaches social science and political thought at University of California Santa Cruz, that is just what students need.

Although the suggestion for a Coursera MOOC is tongue-in-cheek, Meister made it as part of an open letter sent to one of the company’s co-founders – Daphne Koller – criticizing everything about the organization, from its methods and goals to its funding. No doubt, Meister views the included idea for using Coursera as a MOOC subject as his own version of Swift’s satirical “A Modest Proposal.”

“As the course progresses, my more diligent students will come to see…that reducing income gaps through education is not the main problem that Coursera and other Massive Open Online Course (Mooc) providers are trying to solve in their pitch to investors,” he writes.

“That problem is, rather, how and when to price the content that you are now giving away in your current (pre-public offering) phase of development.”

Meister proposes that the Coursera MOOC explore not only what he sees as the company’s true business plan, but also offer students an explanation about how the information collected on them is being used in aid of that goal.

He says that students in the class will learn that the data they freely provide to the company could then be used by Coursera to help it make money in the future.

The possibilities for renting this information back to its students are “endless”, he writes, “not to mention the added possibility of developing other markets for the user-assessment information that Coursera will own”.

Contacted for comment by the Times Higher Education, Koller brushed off the complaints implicit in Meister’s proposal. According to Koller, Coursera provides a revolutionary approach to higher education, so it’s expected that the company will attract the attention of “skeptics and critics” who continue to be wedded to the status quo.

Meanwhile, Coursera continues to take steps to reach its goal of transforming and expanding access to college education all over the world by offering free college textbooks for students enrolling in its MOOCs. The move will allow students to achieve even greater savings when taking online open courses, because they will be able to get access to needed academic materials without paying.

Some of the largest education publishers have signed on to Coursera’s plan, including Wiley, Oxford University Press and Macmillan Higher Education. This will ensure that MOOC professors will have a wide selection of excellent textbooks to choose from when designing their courses.