The backlash against MOOCs goes on. Like the ubiquitous acronym itself, the notion of a MOOC backlash is a regular feature in news about MOOCs. Last week saw headlines like “Faculty Backlash Grows Against Online Partnerships,”  while education’s digital future, a site created by the Stanford Graduate School of Education, created a page for such articles called “MOOC backlash.”

Nor was it all faculty backlash. Inside Higher Ed, in an article titled “Reins on Moonlighting,” notes that “The University of Pennsylvania is working on new guidelines to limit its professors’ freelance work for online education companies.” While faculty are stepping back, so are institutions.

When faculty are saying no to partnerships with MOOC providers, and even institutions are telling their faculty to say no, the question becomes less what’s happening than why. And that was precisely the question tackled by Steven Kolowich in “Why Some Colleges Are Saying No to MOOC Deals, at Least for Now.” He asked the cognoscenti and got their prognostications: Richard Garrett of Eduventures declaring that “we’re at the early stages of that honeymoon period coming to an end”; Peter Stokes, director of postsecondary innovation at Northeastern University, allowing that these deals “have real costs for the institution,” and “that’s creating a little bit more sobriety about how folks view the opportunity.”

But are we really looking at phases or trends or cycles (beyond news cycles, at least)? Isn’t this something more like exactly what the news stories themselves are about? First we had faculty trying things without consulting their institutions — even as administrations, without consulting their faculty, were inking deals in hopes of seeming  ahead of the curve, especially about presumed needed reform and cost control. When faculty were asked by their institutions (e.g., at Duke and Amherst) if they really wanted to do this, they said no. They also said no when they were told to do it (e.g., at San Jose State). And now institutions are stepping in, demanding consultation from their faculty (as in the case of Penn), telling faculty to say no, or promising their faculty that they will say no (as in the case of American University).

Ah … consultation. Devoutly to be wished. But how do we manage that now, especially if it’s going to be about not just the right but the foregone conclusion to say no? There’s already a bit of a backlash to the backlash, something evident in the title as well as the content of Andrew Valls’ “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad MOOC?” He wonders if we’ve too easily and completely flipped the switch, declaring what once seemed an opportunity to be a threat. That’s understandable given all the hype and hyperbole about tsunamis and revolutions, but it may be more reactive than reflective.

Maybe the thing is not to flip from embracing to stiff-arming. Maybe it’s what consultation should be: not about rights (like the right to bear arms or arm bears or whatever) but about reasons, not about global generalizations but about careful distinctions, not about pronouncements from on high but about some willingness to delve into specific cases. The choice is not just thumbs up or thumbs down. You can choose to say no to MOOCs. But you can also choose to think about them — and what they might become.

  1. LAROI M. LAWTON Says:

    As an academic librarian, I am looking at MOOCs partially because I want to experience it as a librarian and see how libraries and librarians could or could not be part of the MOOC movement; and also if and how MOOCs were knowledgeable about information literacy and other concepts held dear to the heart of librarians across many specialties. I’m also wondering about the role of other libraries (public, special, private) in MOOCs, although I am an academic librarian.
    Another area of interest is the impact of scholarly communication issues including the divide between what is freely available (open access, CC, etc.) versus material behind publisher and database pay walls and how that affects the resources people draw upon in their MOOC work.

  2. Tributaries » Blog Archive » More Morphing of MOOCs Says:

    […] Whither the MOOC Backlash? […]

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