Massive Possibilities? A Forum on MOOCs

Felicia Chernesky

Editor’s Note: Massive Online Open Courses, or MOOCs, have emerged as a great hope for education reform in the eyes of many, perhaps especially among conservatives, traditionalists, and classical liberals fed up with the state of the academy and the intransigence of the faculty after years of cogent and conscientious opposition to the decline in standards. Academic Questions has already presented an extensive argument against online learning by Donald Phillip Verene in our Fall 2013 issue (“Does Online Education Rest on a Mistake?”), but we know that the jury is still out—and regardless of the verdict a certain measure of online learning is here to stay. One finds conscientious thinkers on both sides of the issue, and we present a few of them here. According to Mohammed Gad-el-Hak, “Humans are social beings and learning is a social process. Both require connection and interaction to flourish.” Thus true teaching and learning must be a personal experience and cannot take place in the impersonal coolness of the digital world. For his part, Herbert I. London questions whether much learning is taking place in classrooms today altogether. He argues that better pedagogy is available online, and needn’t be without personal interaction if mentors are assigned to respond to students’ demands, although this would probably not be possible in the case of truly massive courses. Rachelle DeJong Peterson, National Association of Scholars research associate, has been following developments closely and gives a more detailed objection to various aspects of online courses. Thomas K. Lindsay relates his own positive experience teaching two online courses, although not “massive” ones, and suggests a middle path as a solution.

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