A Rawlsian Argument to provide computing education beyond MOOCs

August 3, 2018 at 7:00 am 5 comments

I’m still not moved, but the moving process is no longer consuming all my waking hours (and some of the hours when I wished I was asleep). We spent hours clearing out stuff from our house that we’d accrued over 25 years while raising three kids. We have a contract on a house in Ann Arbor, and a contract on our house in Decatur. Children have places to live, and most of their stuff is moved out of the house. We have dates for moving our stuff.

I can make some time to blog again.

Amy Bruckman and I wrote a piece for CACM that appears this month. Amy is an expert in ethical implications of computing, and I worry about MOOCs. Together, we wrote an article about the implications of John Rawls’ definitions of justice for computing education.

We used to think MOOCs were going to change higher education and would democratize education. In 2012, a reasonable person might have seen development of MOOCs as a way to bridge social and economic inequities. By creating MOOCs, CS departments could reasonably claim they were using their privilege to provide great benefit to the least-advantaged members of society.

Today, we have evidence MOOCs do not work like that.

People who take MOOCs already have access to education and tend to be wealthy.

We now know that MOOCs as we have used them so far violate Rawls’ Difference Principle—we are further advantaging the already advantaged. We have an ethical mandate to do better.

Note that there’s a typo in the CACM article: MOOC participants are .45 standard deviations wealthier than the average, not 45 standard deviations.

You can find the whole article here: Providing Equitable Access to Computing Education

It’s a particularly important article for me since it’s my first publication with a University of Michigan byline.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

We might want naive and delusional PhD students CS educators listen to authority more than evidence: Time to move on

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jeff Graham  |  August 3, 2018 at 9:16 am

    Having taken several moocs for fun, I totally agree. The ones I’ve taken are perhaps not intentionally designed for people with higher Ed experience, but I can’t see how most could survive one of these without it. Also, one needs a high level of fluency in the digital world to navigate the help associated with the courses. I think the coding club approach they are using in the UK is going to be way more effective.

  • 2. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  August 3, 2018 at 11:57 am

    The mentioned typo is the reason I require that students never start a number with a decimal point: “0.45” is much less likely to be misread or mis-typeset than “.45”.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  August 3, 2018 at 12:17 pm

      Agreed! The text in the cited paper is “Registrants on average live in neighborhoods with median incomes approximately .45 standard deviations higher than the US population.” I probably missed the decimal point when I wrote the draft, and nobody caught it afterward.

  • 4. Howard Johnson  |  August 3, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Just a related thought. I’ve long been fascinated by Caroline Hoxby’s Economic analysis of the differences in higher ed between highly selective and non-selective institutions. Doesn’t it kind of mirror the issues of inequality? (Especially when you add the venture networks that are socially embedded at Stanford) You can begin to see the outlines of Stanford’s communities of practice. I think these communities (and their local relevance) are possibly more important than the isolated knowledge being acquired; which leads me to this question. If most MOOC developers took communities of practice as an important foundation for learning, might MOOC look much different? I took a couple of the early MOOCs led by George Siemens and Stephen Downs going back to 2008 (cck08). These cMOOCs (as opposed to xMOOCs) were very different (more like high level seminars), but even these, based on Connectivism learning theory, did not truly reach down to the local community level that is of importance to Community of Practice theory. I can’t help but think that other forms of MOOCs and network communities might be possible with the continued growth of tech and might a local answer to inequality.



  • […] the MOOC I took on Pharo. I have not, in general, been a big fan of MOOCs (among many other posts, here’s one I wrote in 2018 about MOOCs and ethics). This MOOC was perfect for what I needed and wanted. But I’m still not generally a MOOC […]


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