MOOCs Disruptions: Episode One
“Saving the planet-one assignment at a time.” I found this quote recently while taking #etmooc (a connectivist, asynchronous MOOC), and it describes why it was that I first began using the internet more extensively for my courses until I eventually became a fully online instructor. My family has been environmentally conscious and active for at least three generations. Several years ago, I participated in a research study with Kwantlen Polytechnic University called Generativity, Families, and Environmentalism: Studying Concern for the Future of the Earth in Young and Midlife Adults where I shared stories of my father’s environmental legal work, my own incorporation of environmental literacy in my English courses and my eldest son’s research work in sustainability issues at Simon Fraser University in conjunction with the BC Working Group in Sustainability Education.
In the past five years, my department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University has been conducting surveys of its registered students and has identified that 70% of the students hold part time jobs involving 20 hours or more per week. In March 2004, the BC Teachers’ Federation Newsletter reported that “This will be the third year of massive tuition fee increases since Gordon Campbell broke his promise to freeze tuition fees. In the last two years, tuition fees have increased by more than 80% at B.C. universities and by more than 100% at B.C. colleges.” As an instructor, I noticed the changes in students’ attendance records beginning in 2002 when tuition fees skyrocketed; I had students who showed up for classes in the first week and ,in private, would inform me that they actually had to be at work during class time and could I forgive lateness , absences and late assignments? This all occurred at a time when gas prices spiked, ‘peak oil theory’ was on everyone’s lips, and then in 2006 Al Gore produced his compelling message in “An Inconvenient Truth”. I began offering a course website to accommodate my students who found it impossible to juggle work/study schedules. With the support of my Department Chair and the university Moodle administrators, I progressed to delivering my courses in partial online format and then fully online. On average, the students who now register for my courses are juggling a minimum of four UT courses, a part time or even full time job , a student loan and family life in one of the most expensive cities in the world, Vancouver, BC.
Enter the MOOC. MOOC’s are the topic du jour around most university campuses in the past year, and my university is no exception. As I did with online teaching, I have engaged in MOOCs this past year to help me understand the experience of learning in a digital environment which seems to have no center and an unlimited circumference. In my own teaching environment, I have not heard favorable discussions about MOOCs; although, there is great curiosity around the free resources available through the Khan Academy or open course-ware offered by colleagues’ alma maters such as MIT., or ITunes lecture -captures available at Yale. Suddenly, the perceived threat of MOOC’s scale and cost efficiencies shed a brighter light on what is now termed a ‘traditional online’ course, and my department seems more amenable to further development of online and hybrid courses in its most recent 5 year Academic Plan. The fact is that, as one of my student’s has written in an essay last term, “A university education has priced itself out of the market” and there are no meaningful job prospects for the average university grad with a $40,000 student loan. Scott McAlpine, writes in the February 25th edition of the Vancouver Sun, “Is there a barista, bartender or server with a liberal arts degree in Vancouver who hasn’t been interviewed about their perceived lack of job prospects? “ Although McAlpine argues that a university degree satisfies ‘personal development’ and ‘intellectual fulfillment’ for these high costs, the MOOCs evolving business models are encroaching on time -honored traditions of course delivery at a university campus in a f2f mode and offering courses at a fraction of the ever- increasing costs of a burgeoning infrastructure in higher education. Both of my sons support their families with the albatross of a student loan as they forge their way into mid careers in a city where the average cost of a single family home is 1M. If MOOCs can offer just- in- time, high quality, relevant, credentialed and cost efficient higher learning opportunities to large audiences, then may they disrupt a system which is increasingly unsustainable for the average undergraduate.
Environment as a Context for Expressing Identity and Generativity: Matsuba et al.
Journal of Personality 80:4, August 2012
© 2012 The Authors
Journal of Personality © 2012, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.