Another article on MOOC

Touted by many as being the future of higher education, moocs or “massive open online courses” have a lot going for them. They are patronized by Harvard, MIT and Stanford gurus and have essayists and columnists defending them in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. The arguments for, at least some of them, do hold ground. A mooc does allow students from around the globe easy access to “quality education” irrespective of geographical borders or time zones. If someone in rural India profits from taking an MIT mooc sitting in his small town cyber café and if the mention of MIT on his CV improves his chances of climbing up the social ladder by getting a good job, where’s the problem? If he took say a computer programming course, then probably none. But what happens in case of a mooc in Humanities or in Literature, for that matter? One of the main concerns regarding moocs seems to be that they are “elitist” and do not take into account different contexts and cultural backgrounds of students like classroom teaching does.

A videotaped lecture on French poetry will certainly not have the same flavor as that given in a classroom full of students. The complexities of an Indian student interpreting Baudelaire in a classroom while questioning, getting answers, discussing with classmates and the teacher and getting enriched by the entire experience will of course be missing when it comes to taking a mooc on French poetry even if it has discussion forums with the highest reactivity.

The recent open letter from San Jose State University’s philosophy department refusing to adopt an edX (the non-profit mooc provider founded jointly by Harvard and MIT) mooc on Justice read:

“what kind of message are we sending our students if we tell them that they should best learn what justice is by listening to the reflections of the largely white student population from a privileged institution like Harvard? Our very diverse students gain far more when their own experience is central to the course and when they are learning from our own very diverse faculty, who bring their varied perspectives to the content of courses that bear on social justice.”

But does this mean that taking a mooc is bad altogether? As some mooc advocates say “there are far more students than professors in higher education, and the system is supposed to be set up for the aspirants, not the academics”[1], it would be interesting to read more articles or comments written by students. A recent study conducted by the University of Edinburg throws light on “choices, motivations and nationality of participants in its six moocs”.



Noir sur Blanc is an international communications agency specializing in higher education. Based in Paris and serving the higher ed community for over 20 years, with offices all over the world, the New York office opened in Spring 2010. Noir Sur Blanc USA is the official blog from the Noir sur Blanc New York office. Follow-us to stay informed on hot topics and trends in higher education.
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