By A. W. Barnes
We are in the midst of the MOOC-ification of higher education. Depending on your response to massive open online courses, they represent either a promising future or the downfall of higher education.
By and large, the delivery platforms for MOOCS—Udacity, Coursera, edX—were developed and are managed by large research institutions, like Stanford, MIT, and Harvard. For those of us who don’t work in large institutions, I want to suggest, contrary to common wisdom, that the MOOC-ification of higher education is a boon. Not because it will give us the chance to cut costs by substituting MOOCs for what we do well on our small campuses, but because it lets us sharpen the contrast between our educational model, which emphasizes the one-on-one and the hands-on, and the remote and generic education that MOOCs must of necessity offer.
As MOOCs become the Costco of higher education, small colleges have the chance to argue that we offer a healthier and far more nutritious alternative.
I am advocating here for a “farm-to-brain” higher-education movement, one that emphasizes local knowledge produced on the campuses (campi: the fields) of small institutions. In a climate in which politicians and parents are pressuring colleges to prepare students for the job market via preprofessional programs, those of us who champion the humanities, arts, and sciences have found ourselves struggling to explain the relevance of what we teach in the 21st century. What parent wants her child to major in English or painting? What kind of job could he hope to get with a degree in philosophy or fashion, and laden with debt?
I take the idea of a farm-to-brain movement from the food industry, where the drama that is unfolding in higher education has already played out. With the rise of agribusiness and the turn to food distribution through big-box stores, an artisanal movement has grabbed a significant share of the market by emphasizing locally grown food that tastes better and is better for you. Across the country, more and more grocery stores (even Costco and Wal-Mart!) offer their customers the choice between factory-farmed chickens and those raised without antibiotics and allowed to feed “free range.”
[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/09/19/farm-to-brain-locavore-education-vs-moocs/ ]