A friend of mine who reads this blog and is an academic recently said he was surprised to hear that I had written something negative about MOOCs since he had only heard positive things. 

That's funny--I have only heard (and thought) negative things.  Then again, I have been known to hang around with historians, who are a critical and even dour lot who often a good sense of the reliability of gauzy future projections.. (Especially if they have the foggiest idea about the reshaping of labor as it has emerged over the past century as means of social and economic control).

Me, I don't intend to take part in (or be silent during) the dismantling of American higher ed, or the hollowing out of the virtues of small colleges and small classes.

There has been a lot of discussion about Amherst's big rebuke of edX's MOOCs (and their 2 million dollar price tag).  That was gratifying to hear.

"Sitze, though, compared edX and MOOCs to a litany of failed dotcoms, including other education ventures with similar ambitions. He said MOOCs may very well be today’s MySpace – a decent-looking idea doomed to fail.

“What makes us think, educationally, that MOOCs are the form of online learning that we should be experimenting with? On what basis? On what grounds?,” Sitze said. “2012 was the year of the MOOCs. 2013 will be the year of buyer’s regret.”


Ouch. The Myspace comparison is always a bit deadly.

But Amherst is as elite as they come, so they are free from ever having to yield to these new trends.  Not so the poor state university systems, the mid rank colleges and universities, and no less the  hopelessly and cluelessly trend-following locally-focoused provincial schools (names withheld)

For more trenchant thoughts on MOOCs I referred him to More or Less Bunk, as I have linked to before.  He gets how the new technology is being rolled out as a means for the professoriate to eat its own young. Or maybe to sit immobile while its young is devoured, a la the end of Cormac McCarthy's Outer Dark

Now that I think about it, that is precisely the situation in which we find ourselves...

Today Rees writes:

"In the name of increasing access to higher education, extremely well-meaning liberals are cooperating in destroying its quality. They’re sending a signal to the people who make higher education budgetary decisions that an automated education is henceforth and forever acceptable. You want to fight permanent austerity? Tough luck. Davidson has already raised the white flag of surrender on your behalf. ["If I had a magic wand...," she repeats like a mantra, thereby implying that real change is impossible almost by definition.] She’s also raised the white flag on behalf of most of the world’s potential college students for generations to come.

Education is supposed to be an exceedingly personal enterprise. This is why forcing students into MOOCs as a last resort is like automating your wedding or the birth of your first child. You’re taking something that ought to depend upon the glorious unpredictability of human interaction and turning it into mass-produced, impersonal, disposable schlock."

All of these future promises and technological makes me want to re-read the founding document of Hampshire College, which was visionary and also not immune to some technological pie in the sky. It is , Franklin Patterson and Charles R. Longsworth, The Making of a College: Plans for a New Departure in Higher Education, published by MIT of all places in 1966. I have an old copy of it somewhere and will dig it up.  It envisioned video lectures available remotely, among other innovations.  But of course it was all in service to an experimental little school built on community that soon recapitulated itself into a radical little place (though the radicalism mitigated over time).

I remember a shortlived snarky little rag published at Hampshire when I was there that if I recall correctly was modeled on Spy Magazine (if you are old enough to remember that) which skewered some of the more b.s. parts of that book

UPDATE wait--you don't have to be old to remember Spy, Google has helpfully digitized it all. Worth it to link through even if just for the covers, which are still amusing. As in

Front Cover

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