Monday, 6 May 2013

Will MOOCs destroy jobs?

On the 29th of April 2013, the professors of the philosophy department of San Jose State University published an open letter to Michael Sandel.

SJSU was encouraging its professors to use Michael Sandel’s course on justice developed by edX*, the MOOC platform co-founded by Harvard and MIT. The SJSU faculty saw this as a way to "replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities".

Are SJSU professors the new Luddites or are they right to be worried? Will professors soon be replaced by MOOCs?

It is still early days but let’s lay down the main elements of the debate:

  • Economic pressure

There are increasing budgetary constraints on state colleges and, especially for introductory courses, MOOCs are perceived as more cost-effective than professors.

  • Pedagogy

The lecture, dating back to when books were luxury items, is perceived to be an outdated form of knowledge transmission. Proponents of the flipped classroom model believe that MOOCs could actually prove to be more engaging for students. Students could watch the lectures online in their own time, while the professors’ teaching time would be entirely devoted to leading class discussions and hands on projects.

  • Inequality

Letting budgetary constraints dictate the use of MOOCs in less well off institutions could accentuate the gap between institution offering interaction with ‘real’ professors and those relying on MOOCs and teaching assistants.

  • Uniformisation

Courses all over the world will increasingly look the same, and, with MOOCs replacing professors, actually largely be the same.

  • Pre-packaged course

Although MOOCs add to the problem of professors who are not content expert using pre-packaged courses, fundamentally this is only a gradual step from relying on mandatory textbooks.

To conclude, attack is probably the best form of defence in this case. Every professor worried about being supplanted by a MOOC should produce its own MOOC. The biggest and most prestigious institutions have the most money but some of Udacity’s most successful courses are run by young graduates with a passion for their subject.

Sub-par teachers and professors probably need to worry. However, others could be freed of the most repetitive aspects of their job and even given the opportunity to shine by putting their own MOOC for the world to marvel at.

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