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Star MOOC Professor Giving Up the Experiment


Mitchell Duneier, Princeton professor and creator of one of the most celebrated MOOCs, “Introduction to Sociology”, has announced that he is discontinuing his course until further notice. Duneier, an early adopter who has called his course “one of the greatest experiences of my career,” isn’t your garden-variety MOOC naysayer. In fact, he’s not pulling out due to concerns that the experiment wasn’t catching on, but because he thinks it’s jeopardizing the future of his own profession by offering schools a low-cost alternative to professors.

As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, the dustup all began when Coursera asked him for the right to license other colleges to offer a for-credit version of his course with limited face-to-face instruction:

“I’ve said no, because I think that it’s an excuse for state legislatures to cut funding to state universities,” Mr. Duneier says. “And I guess that I’m really uncomfortable being part of a movement that’s going to get its revenue in that way. And I also have serious doubts about whether or not using a course like mine in that way would be pedagogically effective.” […]

“I also don’t want to be part of a movement that is really about helping state universities achieve cost savings at the expense of their own faculty and students.”

In some ways, the surprising thing about this story is that it hasn’t happened sooner. We see here a key tension at the core of the MOOC debate: the people responsible for creating content are precisely the people whose profession has the most to lose if it succeeds.

Thus far, many of the early MOOC professors have been happy to experiment and explore the boundaries of the new technology, but as institutions begin to offer credit for more and more MOOC programs, the professoriate will begin to feel the pinch. True, star professors capable of creating popular content with a wide appeal will have much to gain from a system that offers them an international platform, but being products of the traditional university system they may not be pleased to see it upended as a result of their work.

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  • rheddles

    Not a problem. it’s not like there aren’t a few star Ph.D.s without jobs but ready to make some great lectures for a lot of money. And it doesn’t take many. I hope Duniere feels good about throwing his shoes in the gears. It will be equally effective.

  • BobSykes

    Duneier must have missed the lecture on supply and demand and markets in Econ 101 as well as established labor law. Typically for an elite school professor, he doesn’t understand that the biggest beneficiaries would be the high-cost elite schools. If Princeton could find a way to cut Duneier’s salary cost per student, they would be more than happy. Oh, wait, MOOCs!

    Colleges have the right to assign courses to faculty and to control the course content, prerequisites and admission criteria. They won’t do it, but Princeton could require Duneier to restart his course and to make it available for fee to other schools. Princeton gets the fee. His course is work product and under law owned by Princeton, who can set any pricing or distribution they like.

    • rheddles

      Professors most definitely do not understand Intellectual Property law. They think they own what they create while being paid by their school. They forget the hiring papers they signed, unless they are big enough to get a good lawyer to write their contract.

      Schadenfreude here.

  • MWFlorida

    It’s curious to note Duniere’s lack of concern for the students. Doesn’t he care that they can get a lower cost education? Or is education all about the professors?

    When a business stops thinking about its customers (i.e., the students), it is in trouble. Eventually it will be supplanted by a more customer-responsive approach.

    Princeton and its ilk will be fine in the developing higher education world. But I wouldn’t want to be a “directional” state university or a run-of-the-mill liberal arts college. It’s hard to see how they survive in their current form in the face of MOOCs.

    • Andrew Allison

      “Or is education all about the professors?” As is, it’s becoming apparent, medicine all about the doctors. Prof. Mead is correct in arguing that these modern-day Guilds are more concerned with the welfare of their members than with that of those the supposedly serve.

      • MWFlorida

        Agreed. And public education is all about the teachers.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “In fact, he’s not pulling out due to concerns that the experiment wasn’t catching on, but because he thinks it’s jeopardizing the future of his own profession by offering schools a low-cost alternative to professors.”
    LOL, imagine a world where professors copyright their courses, and sell them on Amazon complete with certified credits. Hey Mead, do you want to be the Tom Clancy or Stephen King of foreign policy, or does your vow of poverty interfere with your collecting millions of dollars in royalties for your intellectual property? LOL

  • Corlyss

    “he thinks it’s jeopardizing the future of his own profession by offering schools a low-cost alternative to professors.”

    Someone ought to tell him that train has left the station and its too late now to stop it absent the Feds stepping in and eliminating funding from universities that try to further damage the Dems most valued propagandists and boosters. I don’t doubt that before the Obama administration is out of office it WILL try to defund them.

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