Why the MOOCopalypse is Unlikely
The article from The Chronicle referenced below helped convince me that the MOOCopalypse is unlikely to happen. The MOOCopalypse is the closing of most of American universities (“over half” said one of our campus leaders recently) because of MOOCs. The Chronicle piece is about the professors currently offering MOOCs, and the survey (at left) is only with MOOC providers.
The first and greatest challenge to the MOOCopalypse is economic. It’s a huge cost to produce MOOCs — not just on the professors making the MOOCs, but on all their colleagues who have to cover the teaching and service that the MOOC-makers aren’t providing. For what benefit? Most of the MOOC professors talk about the huge impact, about a “one to two to three magnitudes” greater impact. Not clear to me how universities can take that to the bank. Unlike fame from a great result or influential paper, MOOC fame doesn’t obviously lead to greater funding opportunities.
There is currently no revenue from MOOCs. It is not reducing the number of students who need to be taught, nor the amount of service needed to run the place. It may be reducing the amount of research (and research funding) that the MOOC providers may have provided. MOOC professors who see that MOOCs may reduce the costs to students are consequently predicting fewer tuition dollars flowing into their institutions. Literally, I do not see that the benefits of MOOCs outweigh their costs.
In all, the extra work took a toll. Most respondents said teaching a MOOC distracted them from their normal on-campus duties.
“I had almost no time for anything else,” said Geoffrey Hinton, a professor of computer science at the University of Toronto.
“My graduate students suffered as a consequence,” he continued. “It’s equivalent to volunteering to supply a textbook for free and to provide one chapter of camera-ready copy every week without fail.”
The second reason why the MOOCopalypse is unlikely is because those predicting the closing of community colleges and state universities do not understand the ecology of these institutions and how they are woven into the fabric of their communities.
- This year, I chair the computing and information system technologies (CIST) advisory board of local Chattahoochee Technical College. Most of the advisory board draws on local industry, the people who hire CTC’s graduates. They have a say in what gets taught, by describing what they need. How do you replicate that interchange with MOOCs?
- I have had the opportunity to visit several institutions in the University System of Georgia through “Georgia Computes!” At Albany State University, they teach the standard computing courses, but the languages and tools they use are drawn from ones that the local industry needs. At Columbus State University, they teach content that local Fort Benning needs for the military personnel and employees. Courses are set up to meet the logistical needs of the military at Fort Benning. Why would the MOOC provider-professors at Stanford, MIT, Harvard, or Toronto want to meet any of those needs?
My third reason why I believe the MOOCopalypse is unlikely is based on a prediction about the technology. I do not believe that MOOCs are going to dramatically increase their completion rates (even with degree options and accreditation schemes like Accredible.com) ,and I do not believe that MOOCs will be successful in teaching the majority of students. Funders of higher education (e.g., parents and legislators) and consumers of higher education products (e.g., employers) are not going accept the closing of state universities in favor of an option that fewer students graduate from and that produces weaker graduates. We are already hearing the pushback against the plans to move community college courses into MOOCs in The Chronicle. I can believe that some universities may close, but I cannot believe that we as a nation would willingly embrace the closing of a not-great but underfunded educational system for a markedly worse one.
I’m reminded of the A Nation at Risk report and the claim “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” That report was about primary and secondary school education. The MOOCopalypse would be an act of war on higher education.