We know Big Pharma, Big Oil and Big Food. Get ready for Big Ed
By Christian Exoo and Calvin F. Exoo
The New York Times declared 2012 to be the Year of the MOOC, enthusiastically adopting venture capitalist argot advocating “disruption” and “starting the revolution that has higher education gasping.” Thomas Friedman referred to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as a “revolution” nine times in three separate columns.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, less pithily, has issued the “Infinite Jest”-like imperative “Call it the year of the mega-class.” A Chronicle survey of professors who had taught MOOCs (which admitted that its sample was “stacked with true believers” in digital learning) found that 79 percent of instructors “believe MOOCs are worth the hype.”
This euphoria feels familiar, and for good reason. For all the hype about innovation and disruption, the MOOC providers — for-profit companies such as Coursera and Udacity — are following a previously beaten path, one laid out by earlier proponents of for-profit education in the charter school reform movement.
The plan is simple. First, declare a crisis in education that doesn’t actually exist. Second, declare that a for-profit model can fix the crisis. (This is easy when you get to invent the particular calamity.) Third, rather than starting small and building empirical support from experts in the field, seek sweeping legislative changes that lock your position into the system.
The “crisis” in higher education
In December of 2011, the New York Times gave Op-Ed space to Stanford professor Daphne Koller, complete with a fawning four-color Shepard Fairey-style portrait of the author, who declared that “[o]ur education system is in a state of crisis … The high costs of high-quality education put it off limits to large parts of the population, both in the United States and abroad, and threaten the school’s place in society as a whole. We need to significantly reduce those costs while at the same time improving quality.” Introducing Koller only as “a professor in the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory,” the article gave us no hint that she might have a personal stake in the issue. Five months later, with co-founder Andrew Ng, she would launch Coursera, a MOOC provider much loved by venture capitalists, presumably for its profit potential.
[ Full article available on Salon: http://www.salon.com/2013/10/28/moocs_corporate_welfare_for_credit/singleton/ ]