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A MOOC Brush Off: How & Why Amherst Faculty Gave edX The Cold Shoulder

By on May 13, 2013
Blended Learning, Domestic, Education Quality, Faculty, Faculty, Flipped Classrooms, MOOCs, OER - Open Educational Resources, Required, Startups, top, Universities & Colleges

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Another recent member of the MOOC resistance  comes from Amherst College, a selective liberal arts college on the East Coast.  The school turned down an invite from edX, the non-profit massive open online course platform led by MIT and Harvard. It’s one of the early public signs of faculty resistance groups fighting back at the trendy MOOC concept, which some believe threatens both the jobs of faculty and the idea of modern colleges and universities as we know them. Here are the details:

–  A faculty committee voted a convincing 70 to 36 against joining edX, with five abstentions.

–   Faculty are  upset  when administrations strike deals with online providers or MOOC platforms without going through the proper channels on campus such as faculty committees (bodies that most faculty dreaded serving on in the past… but which are now flexing their muscle in the MOOC backlash). While some technologists and VCs might criticize universities for their such obstruction… we think it is a positive development for faculty to be involved with decisions of administrations … so long as the faculty are not just opposed to change but want to be involved in helping to guide smart change and innovation on their campuses.

–   When universities work through the faculty committees as Amherst just did,  the faculty have the choice to resist technology trends, to join the technology trends or to come up with new and different strategies.

–   MOOCs are not used to being turned down.  An edX spokesman said it  has 12 institutional partners but has received inquiries about membership from more than 300 colleges

–  The MOOC honeymoon phase is over. Many colleges are ”sobering up” and starting to step back and think about their next move in the online learning world. It may not be MOOC membership. They realize such partnerships involve costs of time, money and faculty resources.

– Some schools can build courses for free or at a low cost on their own. If they need help, though, edX charges a base rate of $250,000 per course and then $50,000 for each additional time that course is offered. It also takes a cut of any revenue the course generates.

– A survey by the Chronicle of Higher Ed found professors typically spent at least 100 hours to develop a MOOC + 8 to 10 hours a week while the course is in session.

– Some schools – especially land grant universities – say they cannot justify such an expense of time and labor in an era of budget costs and rising tuition in higher ed.

– Amherst has a healthy $1.64 billion endowment and can afford to be part of MOOCs. But faculty were opposed philosophically. They believed joining edX would distract from on-campus teaching and would perpetuate the ”information dispensing model of teaching.” The faculty even believed MOOCs might jeopardize more vulnerable colleges in the future, create more centralization and commoditization of education and even ”create the conditions for the obsolesence of the B.A. degree.”

– The committee worried that edX and other MOOCs might enter a slippery slope of selling student data to companies as they pursue new models of credentialing.

– Amherst faculty said they are open to flipping the classroom, using online video and other technologies on campus and in blended models.




Steve Kolowich writes in the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

Colleges have clamored to be part of the high-profile consortiums run by edX, a Cambridge-based nonprofit, and Coursera, a Bay Area start-up—often with little input from faculty members. The pace of adoption has shocked even the founders of the MOOC platforms, who are veterans of a higher-education sector notorious for its tortoiselike reflexes.

But Amherst’s rejection of edX, decided by a faculty vote, could mark a new chapter for MOOCs—one in which colleges revert to their default modes of deliberations and caution. “I think we’re at the early stages of that honeymoon period coming to an end,” says Richard Garrett, vice president and principal analyst of the consulting company Eduventures.

If MOOCs portend a “tsunami” of change in higher education, as observers have said, then many colleges have been willingly swept in by the undertow. In less than two years, massive online courses have grown from side projects of a few techie professors into companies fueled by tens of millions in venture capital funds and the imaginations of the entire education industry. For universities worldwide, membership in edX or Coursera has become the hottest ticket in town.

Via Chronicle


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May 13, 2013

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