MOOCs, Money, and One Professor’s Bad Experiences!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a featured story this morning describing the experiences of Professor Richard McKenzie, an emeritus professor of economics at the University of California at Irvine’s business school, who developed a MOOC in partnership with Coursera.  We always have to be careful in using one case to reflect on any technology implementation but Dr. McKenzie’s experiences are worth noting.  The article by Steve Kolowich goes well into the weeds of what can go wrong with a MOOC.   Here is an excerpt:

“He had spent the fall and winter watching the registration count for his course “Microeconomics for Managers” the way most economists watch a stock ticker. It climbed by hundreds per day: to 10,000, then 20,000, then 30,000 — more students than he had taught in 45 years in the classroom, and more than were enrolled on the Irvine campus.

It had stoked his ambition. Nobody knew what kind of fame or fortune might lie in store for those who staked out territory on the right side of the revolution, but as far as anyone could tell, the potential was huge.

“There is the bragging rights that go with the new course (‘I can now teach tens of thousands of students a quarter’),” the professor wrote that winter in an email to a colleague, as well as “potential financial benefits” from the sale of textbooks and other course materials.

That was before everything fell apart. Before he became overwhelmed by the unwieldiness of a massive online classroom. Before the chief executive of his university’s corporate partner badmouthed him. Before his bosses took her side. Before he lost his intellectual property, then his dignity. Before he decided to sue.

Court documents, along with hundreds of other records obtained by The Chronicle in an open-records request, shed new light on a case that, while covered only briefly in the press, cast a long shadow over one university’s attempt to navigate the uncertainties of innovation.

The records, some of which were heavily redacted by the university’s lawyers before they were turned over to The Chronicle, show how officials and a professor tripped over one another as they raced into the future. At a time when universities faced pressure to adopt the “fail fast” mantra of the tech industry, the rec­ords offer a stark reminder of what haste, and failure, can cost.”

The article is well-done but rather than simply a caution on MOOCs, the real message is to beware rushing into implementing the latest technology be it MOOCs or something else.  Disruption should not be a goal, when it comes to technology development and implementation, careful planning will always win out.


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