My two previous posts have considered the role of venture capitalists in higher education and my disagreements with a fiercely critical anti-mooc article by Jennifer Cost and colleagues. From this you could be forgiven for thinking that I am some sort of arch capitalist hell bent on exploiting higher education for profit.
Peter Sloep picks this up in a blog post about ‘unhelpful’ arguments. He states that:
Quite obviously Mark sits on the ‘make money’ side of the fence, as is evidenced by such terminology as delivery model, product, marketplace, consumer.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I actually dislike the use of the language of commerce being applied to higher education. Nothing irks me more than hearing students being described as consumers or customers. They’re not; they’re students. The reason I used that language in my blog post was that it is the language that Clayton Christensen uses when he talks about disruptive innovations. It was just clearer to use that language in describing the way that MOOCs are working as a disruptive innovation in higher education. That was the point I was trying to make.
Having said that, I do think that Peter is right in that Jennifer et al and I are operating on different paradigms although not, I suspect, the paradigms that Peter would like to attribute to use. Well to me at least. Here is what I think in a nutshell.
I believe that the current model of higher education is broken. It is hugely expensive. It doesn’t deliver very good outcomes for many students. It doesn’t encourage self learning. It’s not open. It’s not accountable. Etc. You know the arguments.
Surprisingly I am not particularly enamoured of MOOCs either. Particularly xMOOCs. Even cMOOCs have lots of issues that they need to overcome if they are to become a sustainable method of higher education.
What I do like about MOOCs is that they are, at last, disrupting the current system of higher education and making the people that run higher education think about doing things differently. I really hope that we come out with something that is fundamentally better and fairer for everyone. This is the main question that both Peter and I want answered “how we as a civil society want to build and run our educational institution”. I suspect we may not agree on it but at least we could have a discourse.
In terms of MOOCs I have to disagree with Peter when he writes:
I believe we need to tackle the issue of whether we should want MOOCs or not, by addressing the issue of we are ok with monetising education.
This assumes that we don’t already monetise higher education. Maybe in the Netherlands this isn’t the case but in the UK and, particularly Australia, universities are already highly commercialised operations working at an industrial scale in the ‘production’ of graduates. They often rely on large fees from domestic and, especially, overseas full fee paying students. Are we OK with the way we monetise higher education right now? I’m not.
I think the real question about whether we want MOOCs or not (and it’s a moot question because we’re going to get them anyway) is whether we want open courses or not. The first O and the C are the only things that matter in the acronym. I do find it hard to find any argument that says we would not want freely accessible, open courses. But then that’s the thing about incommensurability to use Thomas Kuhn’s term.
I reviewed my blog post following Peter’s description of it as being ‘unhelpful’. I’m probably guilty of replying to a rant with a rant. In that sense it may have been unhelpful although I stand by my points. Hopefully, this post will have cleared some things up though.