Fifty-Eight Harvard Professors Express Concern about MOOC Development!

Dear Commons Community,

The online version of The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that professors in Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences have signed a letter to their dean asking for formal oversight of the massive open online courses offered by Harvard through edX, a MOOC provider co-founded by the university.

“While “some faculty are tremendously excited about HarvardX,” the professors wrote, referring to the university’s brand within the edX platform, “other are deeply concerned about the program’s cost and consequences.”

The letter, published on Thursday in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, was signed by 58 professors in the university division, which is known as the FAS.

The authors go on to ask Michael D. Smith, dean of the FAS, to appoint a committee of arts and sciences faculty members “to draft a set of ethical and educational principles” that would govern their colleagues’ involvement in Harvard-branded MOOCs.

The letter comes several weeks after the philosophy department at San Jose State University wrote an open letter to Michael Sandel, a government professor at Harvard, expressing concerns about how edX’s plans to license its MOOCs to cash-strapped colleges like San Jose State might have devastating consequences for professors at those colleges.

That letter was on the minds of Harvard’s FAS professors when they convened to discuss MOOCs at a meeting this month, said Peter J. Burgard, a professor of German at Harvard. In their letter to Dean Smith, the Harvard professors allude to “many critical questions,” as yet unanswered, about “the impact online courses will have on the higher-education system as a whole.”

But, perhaps more immediately, the professors were irked that Harvard had become so deeply involved in MOOCs before consulting with them, said Mr. Burgard.”



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