Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Credit for MOOCs? Only for "non-elite institutions"

If this doesn't make you wince, read it again.  Yes, we knew a while back that there'd be no credit for you in a MOOC if you're part of the elite cadre that's producing them.

But let Caroline Hoxby, cited at, spell it out for you. MOOC-consuming institutions are, well, how to put it?  (Here's the working paper.)
  • They are like Mickey D's (I'm paraphrasing) in that they sell "current educational services for current payments,”  unlike the "venture capitalists" of elite institutions that  "invest massively in each student" and reap the benefits of--knowing that they've helped to further human knowledge?  Don't be ridiculous: they'll reap the real benefits in donations from their rich, grateful alumni.
  • And since these non-elites are effectively training academies (paraphrasing again) rather than actual universities like Stanford and Duke, MOOCs can replace them: "they may provide viable substitutes for [non-selective post-secondary education] courses that are already effectively summarized by certificates.”  
Hoxby is right about one thing, the very thing that bloggers have been writing about for the past three years: why would students at high-status institutions pay expensive tuition for credits from their own institution if they can get credit for the course through a MOOC for free?  I won't keep you in suspense: they wouldn't.
If highly selective schools start accepting MOOCs for credit, and students stop paying, the institutions may no longer be able to financially support the effort to create the courses in the first place. This is just one of the reasons Hoxby argues that these institutions should not consider accepting MOOCs for credit, even those MOOCs they develop themselves.
So developing MOOCs is effectively like elite institutions eating their own seed corn, which I think Jonathan Rees pointed out some years back.

One thing the summary of the report, at least, doesn't seem a bit concerned about that humanities faculty at places like Amherst were thoughtful enough to consider: what happens to the non-elites once the elites have had their MOOCs inserted into their curricula?

Actually, I'm being unfair to Hoxby. She's really just laying out the economic reality that we're all going to have to deal with sooner or later.  Once MOOCs get their hands--tentacles?--into non-elites and things get worse, as they will, what she tells us will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 


Flavia said...

Oh boy. I have a lot that I could say about this, but won't--because some of it is rooted in personal and/or biographical information (mine as well as hers) that might be unfair or irrelevant.

So I'll just note that it's Caroline, not Carolyn.

undine said...

Thanks, Flavia--I'll fix this in the post.