(Army of Darkness reference for the uninitiated.)
I hereby volunteer: the next pundit who talks about how MOOCs are going to save higher education some big bucks needs to meet me for drinks at the establishment of his or her choosing, I’ll foot the bill, and in return I just ask for the chance to politely and rationally CHEW THEIR FUCKING EARS OFF. And then if they really want they can write an op-ed the next week and pretend they thought of everything I said by themselves and I’ll never let on otherwise.
Do you really WANT TO SAVE SOME MONEY using INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY? Ok, try this one on for size. Why weren’t you blathering on asking why the heck we all bought Blackboard or if you really want to go into the dark ages, WebCT, for years and then kept buying it when we had a less expensive (though not free, if you look at support and management costs) open-source alternative? Especially asking why institutions that didn’t even necessarily need a course management system bought them and got stuck with them and came to see them as indispensible when at least some of the time they were really just exotic devices for password-walling-off fair-use excerpts of material used in classes?
No, no, even better. All the institutions who can create consortia and companies to offer MOOCs seemingly on a wild impulse, try asking why have they been incapable of creating far bigger and more ambitious consortia for open-access publishing of scholarly work, something that’s been technically and institutionally plausible for a decade. I’ve always heard that the first problem is the stubborn desire of individual institutions to go it alone, maintain their independent identity. But suddenly hey presto! MOOC-collaborations galore. Maybe it’s because the for-profit publishers whose monopoly pricing has punched hundreds of universities in their unmentionables didn’t want an open-access world to come into being, and whispered in the right ears. If the idea of big savings and ethical transformation in higher education bundled together makes you so hot you want to call your publisher right now and pitch “The World Is Open” or some such thing, this is your meal ticket, not MOOCs. MOOCs are the freak-show tent off to the side by comparison.
If you want to talk about savings, those are two big areas: platforms and products that could be hacked out cheaply if only faculty and staff user communities were as flexible and adaptable and mildly literate about information technology as everyone else in the world and were therefore also universally pressuring for open-access publishing created and maintained by truly massive consortia of higher education institutions.
But that’s not what the mainstream media pundits are blabbing about everywhere because none of them know shit about higher education budgets and none of them know shit about information technology and none of them lift a finger to know anything more than whatever it is they heard from some guy whose brother’s friend knows a guy who knows a guy. They just open their columns to the most top-level stream of today’s information buzzery and let it dump into their column inches like an overflow sewer in a hurricane.
Again, pundits, let’s talk. MOOCs are damn interesting, you betcha, but seriously, if you think they’re about to solve the labor-intensivity of higher education tomorrow with no losses or costs in quality, you have a lot of learning to do. Not just about the costs and budgets of higher education today, but about the history of distance learning. Right now you guys sound like the same packs of enthusiastic dunderheads who thought that public-access television, national radio networks, or correspondence courses were going to make conventional universities obsolete via technological magic. And hey, if you’re that keen on the digital, skip the drinks, I’m happy to educate you via email.