Thursday, May 16, 2013

The New Yorker on MOOCs

The May 20 New Yorker has a long article by Nathan Heller on Harvard University and MOOCs (massive open online courses): Laptop U. The article suggests, at least to me, imperial ambitions. Here is Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president:

“Part of what we need to figure out as teachers and as learners is, Where does the intimacy of the face-to-face have its most powerful impact?” She talked about a MOOC to be released next academic year, called “Science & Cooking.” It teaches chemistry and physics through the kitchen. “I just have this vision in my mind of people cooking all over the globe together,” she said. “It’s kind of nice.”
This article also suggests, at least to me, the reluctance of some in prestigious positions to speak frankly about the effect that MOOCs will have on the academic job market. Michael Smith, Harvard’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences:
“I think oftentimes this question is oversimplified,” he said. “We’re working very closely with our graduate school and our graduate students to think about how they can be involved in this process.” Job offers today, he said, will necessarily “be different from the ones I saw when I finished up graduate school.” Some Ph.D. students are being trained in MOOC production as “HarvardX fellows.”
It’s not an oversimplification to say that growing reliance on MOOCs will further diminish the already diminished possibilities for tenure-track teaching. That Harvard would employ its doctoral students in audio-visual production, call those students “fellows,” and cast the matter as the unfolding of an inevitable “process” speaks volumes, at least to me, about academia and self-deception.

Here, from the HarvardX job listings, is a description of the work of a HarvardX Fellow:
The HarvardX Fellow plays a key leadership role in the development and delivery of high quality, high impact online learning experiences for HarvardX, part of Harvard’s partnership with MIT in the edX online learning initiative. Working closely with faculty and as part of a community of HarvardX Fellows, the HarvardX Fellow ensures innovative course development and integration with new technologies and educational research across HarvardX, and plays a key role in the organization’s mission to enhance teaching and learning on campus and worldwide.

This is a 2 year term position, with the possibility of renewal contingent on funding, university priorities and satisfactory job performance.
There are two such positions now available.

comments: 1

Anonymous said...

It seems an interesting phenomenon explained in part by Darwin-based observations. The population of teaching positions requiring funding by tuition is in ratio to the learning positions paying such tuition. That ratio has been and remains in flux. As the population of -- pardon the comparison -- predators and their prey changes, one side of the demographic ratio must rise or fall based on the other. The MOOC folks are essentially hungry for more via this new avenue, and it must then be successful by reducing competition from non-MOOC predators or fail by being unable to do so. The notion that this can be managed politically in some way has always been a failure in the long arch of historic fact. I wager in the moment with student debt climbing and late payments lengthening that this market of teachers and students is in great flux. Some will survive at the expense of others. Those of us outside the population of teachers or students of teachers in the moment can only look on and be somewhat amused, and perhaps at times saddened.