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Are MOOCs Soon to Be Obama Administration Policy?

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Well, this is disturbing to anyone who cares about the future of higher education:

On Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the online courses could increase access and keep costs down. “I am very, very, very interested in MOOCs,” he said. “We need some disruptive innovation in higher education.”

No one doubts that the cost of higher education has skyrocketed in unacceptable ways. And everyone would like to increase access to education. However, Duncan’s statement on MOOCs screams of the classic “we need to do something and here’s something so let’s do it!” style so frequently used by those who seek to turn social institutions into profit-making enterprises. Why exactly do we need “disruptive innovation?” Precisely what is the problem in higher education that requires “disruptive innovation?” If it is the cost, there are plenty of things we can do. State legislatures can return funding levels to what they were 20 years ago. We can reduce administrative positions to what they were 20 years ago. We can cut expensive college football programs, most of which lose money.

Do we need “disruptive innovation” in order to increase access? We can do that through increasing on-line access in small virtual classrooms with real interaction between students and between students and faculty through discussion forums and the like. We can reduce the prohibitive cost of education through the funding mechanisms I discuss in the previous paragraph.

Turning our higher education system into the University of Phoenix seems like precisely the kind of “innovative disruption” we don’t need. The idea of teaching writing, critical thinking, public speaking, or intensive reading in a MOOC is laughable. While MOOCs assauge the egos of scabs certain highly-paid professors, they will likely lead to terrible retention rates and little real progress toward meaningful degrees.

The Obama Administration’s record on education is probably at the bottom of all its domestic programs. Obama’s support of Arne Duncan, Rheeism, and now, one wonders, MOOCs is a sign of the perniciousness of the so-called education reform movement, by which reform equals profit for investors and lower standards of education for students.

It’d be nice to put pressure on Obama and Duncan to take back this statement, but of course that isn’t going to happen.

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