A MOOC Delusion: Why Visions to Educate the World Are Absurd!

Dear Commons Community,

The online version of The Chronicle of Higher Education has a guest post today by Ghanashyam Sharma, an assistant professor in writing and rhetoric at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.   Sharma provides an important perspective on teaching to world audiences as someone who before teaching at SUNY Stonybrook, taught for ten years in Nepal.

As The Chronicle recently reported, perhaps the most prominent motivation among professors at prestigious universities for teaching massively open online courses, or MOOCs, is “altruism—a desire to increase access to higher education worldwide.”

In itself, the desire to increase access to quality education for millions across the world is a laudable one. After seven years of being within American academe, first as a graduate student and now as an instructor, I share that desire. I wish to make my teaching available for students around the world who aspire to learn from knowledgeable educators regardless of national borders.

But I don’t share the delusion that seems to be the basis for the excitement over MOOCs among my colleagues here in the United States.”

To make his point, Sharman cites Bakary Diallo, a professor from the African Virtual University:

“As Bakary Diallo, a professor from the African Virtual University, reportedly remarked at a recent meeting among international educators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, students in other parts of the world have their “own realities,” their “own context and culture.” It would be absurd to ignore how significantly those realities shape students’ participation in our virtual classrooms.

So, notwithstanding the inherent goodness of altruism, it is sad to see how educators who see MOOCs as a means of educating students across the world also seem to lack the willingness to consider seriously what happens when thousands of students constituting a vast spectrum of proficiency levels and academic backgrounds try to catch up with one’s attempt to educate the world primarily through video-recorded lectures. This problem is evident in the design and delivery of any MOOC in almost any discipline at this time.”

This article is a well-stated analysis of the hubris that has evolved with the American MOOC phenomenon.  The idea that American professors can relate to multitudes around the world via video lectures is indeed “absurd”.  As Sharman concludes:

“If you were to land today in a small town in India, Argentina, or South Dakota and have to start teaching one of your courses tomorrow morning, how well do you think you would do?

If I may assume that most of us would say that it is hard to teach well in that situation, what magical powers do the MOOC platforms or our personal computers provide us that make all the challenges of facing students across the world simply disappear?”



One comment

  1. Any time a person like Ghanashyam Sharma adds more light than heat to the the subject MOOC’s it is appreciated. However, I found his feedback not very helpful. My first thought while reading it were the words…It will never fly Orville. As scholarly as this article is and as much as I appreciate his opinion this article violates the rules of effective feedback.
    1. Specific rather than general.
    2. Descriptive rather than evaluative.
    3. Well timed (too early in the development of MOOC;s
    4. About behaviors we can do something about.
    The article fails to take into account that there are greater differences within individuals of different cultures and nations than there are between them. That also relates to the differences in MOOC’S.