An alternative to MOOCs

Parents I know who are contemplating sending kids to college are freaked out by the spiraling costs.

The kids are freaked out, too.

536689847_fdda237b0f_zIn Seattle, the personal financial anxiety naturally gets mixed in with a knee-jerk faith in technology "disruption" - MOOCs will save us! - but the energy driving talk about alternatives is really personal financial anxiety.

Thanks in part through continuous dialogue with my friend Mark Byrnes, who talks the talk and walks the walk as a tenured professor at a small liberal arts college, I don't think MOOCs are the answer. In terms of Lanier's critique, as applied by Byrnes, MOOCs are an oligarchical perpetuation (intensification) of the star system. They "disrupt" by trivializing the one-on-one interaction between qualified teacher and student and substitute "accountability features" for the complexity of a social relationship. Who wins? The central servers.

But instead of a power-grab by the entrenched and the elite (is it any coincidence that the MOOCs that get venture financing deal only with top-tier schools?), what about an entrepreneurial approach to education? Forget technology. Pretend technology in education is forever frozen in yesterday* Why don't academics who can't get tenure-track jobs at the established colleges group together and form their own schools?

What drives younger parents absolutely crazy are the escalating costs, year after year. I understand that it's not faculty salaries driving those costs. But then that means there should be room for entrepreneurial faculty to form their own schools?

*(By the way, I know academics being trained and getting with PhDs today know how to use computers. I just meant that the point is not technology. It's that teaching doesn't scale by eliminating people.)

Photo: Chris Campbell / Flickr.

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