Words of caution – Laura Czerniewicz on MOOCs


In this Slideshare critique of MOOCs, Laura Czerniewicz, who works in the South African public university system, draws attention to what is driving the development of MOOCs and what the dangers are. She also points out how they might be usefully employed. She raises important ethical issues around monetisation (investment costs and returns), access (equity), quality (assurance of), the ethics of big data collection in relation to student privacy, and a new academic division of labour. MOOCs create an ethical dilemma/tension between the production and dissemination of knowledge as public and social goods, versus venture capitalists who have invested in MOOC production via private companies like Coursera and who are seeking an eventual payoff.

While Czerniewicz sees MOOCS as currently the solution to a problem – providing free university teaching to already highly qualified professionals (85% of MOOC students already have a degree), the MOOC end game is usually high enrolments and ways to monetise that, given their high production costs. MOOCs also raise the spectre of another form of neocolonialism: their production and consumption is predominantly in OECD countries and may lead to a new form of unidirectional knowledge flow and financial tribute.

Czerniewicz highlights the manoeuvres of MOOC developers to overcome the issues of quality and validation for their product: the development of emerging forms of certification, such as digital badges, certificates of achievement (verified and non-verified), and “statements of attainment” issued by some universities themselves. One of the marketing ploys is the promise of “rock-star” presenters/teachers, while tuition labour costs are outsourced.

Online education has provided a much larger share (now 37%) of the education market for private providers. The advantages of MOOCs for these private providers is that they relieve them of potential conflict with academics around labour and union issues and massively reduce the costs of physical infrastructure. It’s not hard to see their attraction for cash-strapped universities.

However, in spite her concerns, and to be balanced, Czerniewicz does acknowledge the potential for local (country, regional) MOOC initiatives in education, such as providing “gateway skills” (introduction to or bridging pathways to higher education for high school students, for example), or “graduate literacies” for UG students (something provided, for example, by Stanford in collaboration with Coursera), or even professional development for people not seeking or needing the credentialism of institutions of higher education like universities.

For further reading, see:
Czerniewicz, L; Deacon, A; Small, J and Walji, S (2014) Developing world MOOCs: A curriculum view of the MOOC landscape, in Journal of Global Literacies, Technologies, and Emerging Pedagogies (JOGLTEP) Vol. 2, Issue 3, July 2014, Michigan State, available at http://joglep.com/files/7614/0622/4917/2._Developing_world_MOOCs.pdf


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