Weekly Blog (Dec 1)

Selingo et al. (2013) painted a picture of the next generation universities, where high integration of advanced technologies and a growing student population were salient. Based on a study of the expanding education opportunities in 6 public institutions, they argued that in the future, public universities could “use growth as a solution to declining revenues rather than contraction” (p.3), and distance learning technologies, such as MOOCs, might make education of a larger number of students possible. Their emphasis on employing technologies in higher education has been echoed by Morris & Stommel (2013), who asserted that MOOCs were more than an approach to learning. Morris & Stommel argued that by creating a social space or community, MOOCs were actually “an outcome in and of itself”. The curriculum of MOOCs seemed to be evolving since students’ engagement constantly reshaped their online learning process. However, concerns also emerged as MOOCs becoming an important force in higher education. Bady (2013) argued that the “rhetoric alchemy” of MOOCs led to a shift of discourse of what college was. He believed that technology could never be a solution to the miserable graduation rates in higher education, because it only “awards self-directed learners who have the resources and privilege to allow them to pursue for its own sake”. Moreover, Bady argued that the record and reuse of MOOCs might reinforce the power of some academic superstars and strengthen hierarchy of knowledge production in higher education institutions. Similarly, Kelly (2014) argued that MOOCs were a tool rather than a solution to deep-seated problems in higher education. But he conceded that MOOCs could benefit more students if deployed strategically. Some policies including updating MOOC-to-credit policies and promoting hybrid models in higher education might give online learning broader appeal.

Despite MOOCs’ contributions to the expansion of education opportunities, I find myself very concerned about the quality and equity of higher education if online learning is widely promoted. If MOOCs are to replace some normal college classes to improve college completion rates, will college degrees still be the same as those previously earned through traditional classroom learning? Will college degrees still reflect one’s competency in academia, given that MOOCs are less effective in developing some important skills such as presentation skills and group work abilities? Moreover, if public universities rely on MOOCs to expand student population as a response to the decreasing revenue, will the education gap between public universities and private institutions be widened?

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