Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad MOOC?

06 May

Why not let him e-guest-lecture?
[ Michael Sandel of Harvard via Flickr/CC ]

By Andrew Valls

Are MOOCs and other online materials a threat to quality public higher education, and to our role as professors? The members of the philosophy department at San Jose State University think so. They recently issued an open letter to Michael Sandel, of Harvard University, objecting to his role in encouraging the use of MOOCs at public universities. The controversy stems from San Jose State’s contract with edX, a company that provides MOOCs, including one based on Sandel’s course on justice at Harvard. San Jose State has agreed to use materials provided by edX, but the philosophy department has refused to use Sandel’s online lectures in its courses.

I am a political theorist at a large public university, and this term, for the first time, I am teaching my course, “Introduction to Political Theory,” as a hybrid. I am using Sandel’s course on justice—not the MOOC, but essentially the same materials that are publicly available at—to provide much of the online portion of the course.  Though this is still an experiment, many of the arguments presented by the San Jose State philosophy professors do not ring true in light of my experience.

We should begin by distinguishing two issues. The philosophy professors state that they have felt pressured by their administration to use the materials from Sandel’s course. The administration denies exerting any such pressure. Whatever the truth of the matter, that is an issue of academic freedom, and not about the pedagogical merits of using MOOCs and other online materials.  I certainly agree that professors should be responsible for the content and pedagogy in their own courses.

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on May 6, 2013 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed



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