Snobby MOOCs

My friend the history professor Mark Byrnes, who has strong feelings about MOOCs, was telling me last night about a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, by Jeffrey Young. Seems that the publication, through a freedom of information act request, obtained a copy of a contract between the University of Michigan and the MOOC startup and venture-financed Coursera.

6a01156e3d83cb970c01901eb4f39f970b-580wiYoung's article parses the contract for clues on how the university and the for-profit venture mean to make money together.

Mark tees off on how various monetization models - including Corsair's right to seek sponsors for classes ("Today's seminar on the Peloponnesian War brought to you by Raytheon") - are not compatabile with the mission of education.

I myself am more interested in the snob factor Young uncovers:

'When I showed the Coursera contract to Trace A. Urdan, an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities who focuses on education-related companies, he found it "ironic" that major universities are embracing online education when they have been dismissive of earlier efforts by for-profit companies like the University of Phoenix.

'"These are two of the most arrogant types of institutions—Silicon Valley companies intersecting with these elite academic programs," he says. "Neither of them considers that anyone else has come to this place before they've arrived. They say, We're here now, so now it's sort of legitimate and for real."'

Reassurance of the privileged nature of associating with Coursera is not just subtext; it is important enough to be recited in the contract.

Exhibit G, pictured above, has more contractual "teeth" than the revenue sharing provisions. The limitation to host within North America only content from universities that are members of the Association of American Universities is the key. According to the AAU site, the association as only 62 members (here is a list of them).

But the contract otherwise looks flimsy. Because a university can walk away on 90 days notice, love, presumably, will have to keep the parties together.


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