Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"They want everything for nothing!"

As I've mentioned before in this blog, I'm a fan of Harlan Ellison.  And as it happens, one of his rants has been proving particularly salient of late.

This came to mind over the ongoing debate over the function of MOOCs as a tool of online education.  Greg Downey posts a good summary of the debates, promises and misgivings of Massive Open Online Courses.  Now, naturally I'm a big booster of online education in general, as it's the primary venue where I get to teach anthropology while holding a full time job.  What galls me about some of the enthusiasm over MOOCs is the dreams of Thomas Friedman and his ilk - the idea that they will effectively upend higher education with a few elite instructors teaching hundreds of thousands of students in lieu of a traditional college education. 

Friedman seems not to be aware of (or care about) the fact that traditional academia has already been gutted, with no small amount of the teaching load being upheld by adjunct instructors who teach without tenure or benefits.  The growth of online education has opened more opportunities for adjuncts to obtain something more like a living wage by teaching at multiple institutions.  And here comes Friedman saying we can reduce education costs by replacing instructors with free courses teaching thousands.  As if the situation for career academics isn't precarious enough.  In a way, this situation differs from Ellisons rant about being undercut by amateurs, since this call is for the elites to squelch the rest of the academic workforce through a kind of Social Darwinism. PZ Myers weighs in by essentially throwing down the gauntlet against MOOC proponents. 


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