Tom Ellard – Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About MOOCs

Every few years we concoct a new iconic shorthand for the same old modernist drive to social efficiency. It wasn’t too long ago that virtual worlds were the buzz. Micro blogging has been the firm favourite for the last three or so years but we’ve got a new one; the Massive Open Online Class which has a killer mix of cyber culture, ‘gamification,’ white man’s burden and push button convenience. Sounds like I’m down on it, but actually I’m in the race to win.

For the student, a MOOC is the chance to study (for example) poetry at Harvard for free. So long as you understand that (a) you are not really studying or graduating at Harvard and (b) that your assessment and feedback is going to be done by some other amateur, it’s a deal. For the university it seems a way to do all the rote teaching by the least expensive means, until they remember it’s free, and are left scrabbling for any kind of payment system.

For Pearson, a publisher in the textbook game, it’s a nice bit of roots organisation that will hand over a platter of intellectual property for them to gatekeep. Like the indie labels did for the music industry, like lonely people do for Facebook, there’s nothing like enthusiasts jumping into your fishing net.

But for teaching staff it’s what MP3 did for the music industry – good for the very top and very bottom – genocide for the middle. If you’re staff at a regional university and doing your best to teach poetry on limited means, having Harvard come to town is death. Not that anyone needed them to explain poetry, but the lure is in the brand (burned on your rear). The regional university wilts, the university town wilts, an arid patch appears with consequent economic and political damage.There will be cheer squad of course – same people that thought that transferring music rights from EMI to Apple represents some kind of progress.

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