Should Professors Take Responsibility for Effects of MOOCs?


Massive open online courses have opened up educational options for many people, but some are concerned that these MOOCs will be used to dismantle the education system, and make professors obsolete.

Steve Kolowich of The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that a group of philosophy professors from San Jose University wrote an open letter addressed to Michael Sandel, a government professor at Harvard, concerning his popular MOOC on the concept of justice.

In an open letter, the philosophy professors warned that such collaboration could mark beginning of a long-term effort to "replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities."

Sandel offers a MOOC through a non-profit platform edX. EdX is the MOOC provider that the administration at San Jose State has recommended it faculty members to use in order to supplement their own teaching.

San Jose State is one of the first universities to incorporate MOOCs into their traditional curriculum.

The philosophy professors suggest that Sandel and other teachers are personally responsible for the effects of their MOOC courses, which in their opinion is the eminent elimination of professors.

When it comes to technology tools aimed at reducing operating costs, it is not uncommon for professors to distrust the intentions of university administrators—especially in California, where years of budget cuts have made faculty members especially leery of such "disruptive innovations."

Mohammad A. Noor, a professor of biology at Duke University, asserts that professors cannot be held responsible for how a MOOC is used. He thinks that it is ultimately the choice of the faculty to say what their students use for a course.

Also, if the MOOCs are in fact being used by colleges to replace and dismantle departments, that it is the fault of a "reckless" administration, not the professor who furnished the MOOC.

"I don't see it as particularly my business how people use the stuff once I put it out there," Mr. Noor says—though he adds that if dismantling departments were all a MOOC was being used for, "then I'd stop."

Another Duke professor, Roger Barr, believes his obligation is to his students taking his MOOC, not to other colleagues who believe that their career is in jeopardy. Sarah Eichhorn, a math lecturer at the University of California at Irvine, says that creating a MOOC is the equivalent of writing a textbook or producing open resources that are available for other teachers.

Ms. Eichhorn says she was surprised when the San Jose State philosophy professors went after Mr. Sandel. "I think it's a professor's job to make education available," she says, "not to restrict it."

05 29, 2013
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