If you are still fooling yourself that MOOCs are revolutionary for the ways they are helping education to evolve, than this should help you understand that the change is really to be found in the ways that administrators no longer even pretend that higher education is anything but a business that requires the approaches and sensibility of a business. That is, profit is the sole legitimate motivation.

In this NYTimes story on Georgia Tech adopting for-credit MOOCs, we read

" The Florida Legislature has directed the University of Florida to start fully online bachelor’s degree programs and set the price for residents at three-quarters of the campus in-state tuition, or about $4,700. But Bernie Machen, the university’s president, said he had not yet decided whether to charge out-of-state online students the full $28,000 tuition they would pay on campus, in part because he wondered if online pricing models were changing.

Most of us got into online graduate programs more from the revenue side than the service side,” said Mr. Machen, whose university brings in $75 million annually from its more than 70 online graduate degree programs. “It was an untapped market.”

The "service side" he refers to would be what the uninitiated or old fashioned might call "education."

But you would only think this if you failed to understand that students should be viewed in terms of the marketplace. To be uneducated is to be untapped.

My own school seems to have adopted this model by having all of the freshmen required to read a largely empty management book dressed up as an exploration of the science of habit formation. This book presents the worst kind of journalism that we are, in theory, attempting to teach the limits of to our students. (I am not the first to note that  "Duhigg is a wannabe Malcolm Gladwell. His prose is less elegant, but his approach is similar: Find a Big Theme and illustrate it with an array of eclectic examples. Like Gladwell, Duhigg is very comfortable making sweeping inferences from limited data."

Duhigg breezily connects things with a simple monocausal explanation, and then demonstrates how this simple rule in fact governs all behavior. And it is written in distracting TV-talking head short bursts, wherein single sentences are made into important sounding single sentence paragraphs. This is the kind of writing that I actively encourage my students to avoid.

It is that kind of book.

It is that bad.

  This is a book which fuses the habit denial of Rosa Parks with the Christian mega church formation imperialism of Rick Warren.

Don't ask.

Actually, you can ask. This linkage seems to imply a moral equivalency between the two, which is foul enough.  Is Rick Warren's homophobia a habit? Or just evidence of poor character?

At the same time this telling simplifying the civil rights movement into a mere act of habit maintenance. The historical context conveniently gets muddied, and the historical agency and hard work of Parks and the whole movement is reduced so utterly in Duhigg's telling as to count as counterfactual mythology.

Another chapter, perhaps the most depressing, argues approvingly (even gushingly) that Starbucks is really a massive educational institution teaching "willpower." The example is a man who's eparents both died of drug overdoses but for whom Starbucks helped him learn his true potential in customer service. The power of the corporate ideal to triumph over life adversity, family failure, and personal weakness. The willpower to say invented words like "vente" instead of "medium"

But it occurs to me that Starbucks knows something about untapped markets. A Starbucks Will-to-Power MOOC can't be far behind, don't you think?

It turns out that the forces of higher education marketing have already noticed this book is a good ally for their propaganda campaigns


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