September 1, 2014

What happened in online learning over the summer? – 2

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English Bay Vancouver

English Bay Vancouver

This is the second summary post of some newsworthy items that happened over mainly July and August.

MOOCs

Peters, M. (2013) Massive Open Online Courses and Beyond: the Revolution to Come Truthout, August 17

This is an excellent, comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of where MOOCs are going.

What Michael Peters does is to set MOOCs within ‘a wider set of socio-technological changes that might be better explained within a theory of postindustrial education focusing on social media as the new culture.

In particular, he stresses two particular issues:

  • The first revolves around academic labor policy raising larger long-term issues of digital or immaterial labor: automation, deskilling and deprofessionalization, as well as casual and part-time recruitment of nontenured faculty or staff, adjuncts and technical staff with little pedagogical knowledge to replace trained faculty.
  • The other major issue with MOOCs is whether it will be responsible for the further monetization and financialization of higher education.

Peters argues that “peer philosophies” are at the heart of a radical notion of “openness” and would advocate the significance of peer governance, peer review, peer learning and peer collaboration as a collection of values that form the basis for open institutions and open management philosophies. 

His summary is well worth quoting in full:

The notion of the university as a public knowledge institution needs to reinvent a language and to initiate a new discourse that reexamines the notions of “public” and “institution” in a digital global economy characterized by increasing intercultural and international interconnectedness. This discourse needs to begin by understanding the historical and material conditions of its own future possibilities, including threats of the monopolization of knowledge and privatization of higher education together with the prospects and promise of forms of openness (open source, open access, open education, open science, open management) that promote the organization of digital creative labor and the democratization of access to knowledge.

Peters argues that MOOCs have a significant role to play in this development.

My only comment is that this is not the way I see MOOCs moving at the moment. Because of their very size, there are huge technical problems with peer review and peer governance in MOOCs. MOOCs as currently practiced are more about old-fashioned hierarchical and elite institutional knowledge transmission and with respect to Coursera and Udacity, more about the privatization of higher education, than about the social construction of knowledge among equals. Nevertheless, Peters’ overall arguments about the future development of universities in a digital age are spot on, even if they are at a rather abstract level. For me, MOOCs are an interesting distraction from the real issues that Peters raises, but at the same time are a stimulus to thinking about these larger issues.

Lastly, the article is worth reading for the references alone, which include:

Thanks to Howard Davis for directing me to this article.

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