Reflections on Academic Freedom in the era of MOOCs

“More than MOOCs – What are the risks for academic freedom?” . This article was published by Jonathan Rees, a History Professor at Colorado State University – Pueblo, in the May-June 2014 issue of ACADEME  (the magazine of the American Association of University Professors – AAUP). And is the base of this entry.

Dr. Rees made very interesting points about the negative effects that MOOCs could have on academic freedom, when their use is not under the control of the instructor, and rather “imposed” by the administration. If you are curious about what academic freedom actually “covers and doesn’t cover”, please check here.  The main idea that I wanted to share with you from his article, is that using MOOCs could end in a professor becoming a teaching assistant, rather than the teacher. Granted, this sounds a little exaggerated, but at the end it could be the reality. This could be the case when MOOCs that are not truly open access, leaving no room for the instructor to decide what material to cover and what to omit, or what modules to skip. So, the issue is not really about using MOOCs, or other technology, in the classroom, but as expressed by Dr. Rees: ” who controls how that technology is employed in the classroom or whether it is employed at all”.

MOOCs could reduce the discussion in the classrooms, resulting in even more monotonous lectures, especially if the instructor does not have any flexibility on the material. As always the extremes are very bad. Dr. Rees suggests that the spread of MOOCs “could lead to the abandonment of skilled educational labor entirely, since there is no reason to pay people who went to graduate school to learn content if that content has already been purchased from an off-campus provider”. I don’t believe this statement to be necessarily true. Not everyone can learn by simply looking at an online course, and no matter how a MOOC is developed, I don’t think it will exceed what a good instructor can offer, because teaching is not only about delivering content.

 

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