Having taught the first MOOC (massive open source course) in the state of New Hampshire (ok no big deal we are a small state but we do have a state university system with multiple campuses and a number of private colleges, including an Ivy) I have become a sort of point guy for talking about this type of teaching (perhaps “target” might be a better term).
I’ve touched upon faculty fears in at least one previous post and I continue to wonder about animosity toward this type of larger scale approach to education. My colleagues are understandably concerned about possible erosion of face-to-face education which they value and which, for the most part, they are good at doing. They see MOOCs with their big enrollments as the beginning of the end of what they do. And, to some extent, they may be right. But it’s not the MOOC that is the primary driver of this, but instead the unwieldy cost of both undergraduate and graduate education in the U.S. So many of my students at the College are literally drowning in debt before they even set their sights on graduate education. Just yesterday I talked with a bright young student who will graduate from our state college with over $50,000 in debt and now hopes to enter a professional doctoral program (Psy.D. in Psychology) in which she’ll accrue an additional $120,000 or more in debt. And of course the critical question that confronts faculty: Can we in good faith encourage students to even consider graduate school knowing they’ll emerge with such crushing debt?
While many politicians and others rail against Colleges and Universities for becoming so expensive, the truth is that support for higher education has been slashed, especially here in New Hampshire which ranks dead last in the U.S. for monies for colleges. When we professors look back at our own graduate education we remember free tuition or big tuition breaks, teaching assistantships, government support and Ph.D.’s with little or no debt. We could set about our lives in reasonable fashion, knowing that we could buy homes, raise families, have a life. Not so for the young people we corral through the system.
And while MOOC Land holds out the possibility for, among other things, a lower cost route to a degree, we all fear a two-tier system: Online education for the “have littles” and Middlebury College or Princeton for the “have a lots.” Until we can stem the tide of this growing inequity we will continue to march toward MOOC Land, whether my colleagues like it or not.