I learned something yesterday. (This is not an everyday experience at my age.) I met with a group of faculty from a university that was thinking about adopting some of my online learn by doing curricula. I don’t typically meet with faculty about this because in general faculty don't care about educational change and they aren’t the decision makers anyway. I learned that I had been invited to talk with the faculty to allay their fears about online education.
I hadn’t really thought about this before. Of course, I know that faculty at places like San Jose State are objecting to MOOCs for a valid reason. MOOCs are providing canned lectures to students that are essentially faculty job eliminators. Stanford may be pushing MOOCs but they surely won’t be using them much. Faculty need to lecture in order to pay the bills. At places like Stanford, the faculty care about research and… did I mention research? They should be happy to not have to lecture. But, if they don’t who will pay their salaries? Some superstars can pay their own salaries from their research funds, but the average faculty member is actually being paid to teach, despite the fact that they get no respect for it and often do it badly. Stanford will muddle on and will be around for a long time. Not so San Jose State, which could easily disappear if State officials widely adopt MOOCs.
So, at the meeting I had with a good, but hardly Ivy League, private college, the faculty were afraid. I didn't realize what they were afraid of exactly for a while.
It was me.
They were afraid of me. They were the kind of faculty that dominates the educational landscape but not the kind of faculty that I have encountered in my professor’s life at Stanford, Yale, and Northwestern. While research dominates the life of faculty whom I have lived with, teaching dominates the life of the faculty with whom I was talking yesterday.
They were worried that if their university adopted my online master degree programs they would lose their jobs. After listening to me talk for a while (I was still at this point oblivious to their concerns,) they started making odd statements like:
So you think that the problem at universities is that their isn’t enough good teaching?
Your on line courses wouldn’t take away our jobs?
Hardly, we would need you to supervise the new mentors you would have to hire.
And my last and favorite:
Isn’t this the way people have always learned and universities always used to teach?
Yes. Exactly. Mother chimps teach their children by showing them what to do and then helping them do it. Professors teach PhD students one on one, supervising their work as they try things out. No one gives lectures to their children at home.
Online learning, in my mind at least, was always supposed to make learning more fun, more relevant to each particular student, and was meant to require a heavy investment from faculty to improve the nature of the university by better teaching. This does not necessarily mean more teaching, but rather individualizing teaching just in time in a way that online learning makes possible.
So this is another thing MOOCs have screwed up. They have put faculty in fear of losing their jobs (rightly so) when the real issue is how to use online learning to improve the teacher-student experience.
Here is a picture of me doing one on one teaching with my grandson. I am teaching him how to handicap a horse race: