Dear Colleagues in Science & Elsewhere, Please Write In!

A short while ago, I received this from a colleague and friend in Science at the University of Alberta, in response to Monday’s post, “You Too Can Be A Rock Star! (But What are the Consequences for the Academy as a Whole?)”. Professor Subhash Lele (Professor of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences) writes:

Nice job. I think MOOCing is a terrible idea, both pedagogically and scientifically. . . . [The] financial aspect is not the main point we should be emphasizing but what effect would it have on how and which schools of thoughts are disseminated through this. Is it going to be a single school of thought that will be taught to everyone in the world (just like the church does)? How are the dissenters who, we have learnt through the history of science, really make the difference [to be dealt with]? Would Kuhn’s thinking be applicable anymore if we do MOOCing?   There are many other points that are worrisome about this idea. I hope it is thought through carefully by the faculty before jumping on the wagon.

This communication from a colleague and friend in Science gives me the opportunity to say again something so important to the genesis of this website.

Inspired by a few colleagues in Arts who urged me last December to create a space for us to come together publicly to raise our concerns about cuts to the Faculty of Arts, I began this website as a “virtual square” in which we might come together, speak up, and share our ideas not just about how to deal with the cuts but how to demonstrate to the public why what we do is so important. This has had some good effects, both institutional and personal. I can say (for example) that I now know many more of my colleagues in Arts, and some of the colleagues I met last year through this effort are now dear friends.

My relationship with the blog has been evolving, as I have become keener and keener to keep abreast of various developments in post-secondary education in Canada and the States. I would never have dreamt — for example — last year at this time that in June I would be writing something like an analysis of the Bain & Sterling “Brief” on Higher Education for a blog. I will keep doing this kind of work, as time permits, amidst other demands. (The Times, they are demanding.) But I wish to urge, once again, that members of the University of Alberta community think of this as a space in which they too can raise concerns. I also welcome guest posts by others.

The simple fact of the matter is that we are all fiendishly busy. Simply keeping up with our research and teaching demands is challenging enough for all of us. But in the interests of collegial governance, we need to be sharing our ideas about how we, the faculty, — and here I mean not just those of housed at the University of Alberta, but faculty across North America — should be shaping the Academy in this time of “crisis.” So please feel free, no matter what faculty you are housed in, or, indeed, where you and your computer are on the planet, to join in the discussion here. And I am always happy to receive notifications for what I ought to be paying attention to, and bringing forward for conversation in this virtual space, by email at

Professor Lele promises to write a little more, as time permits. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing more about the important of Kuhn’s thinking for “MOOCing”!

This entry was posted in massive open online courses (MOOCs), the north american academy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dear Colleagues in Science & Elsewhere, Please Write In!

  1. Dr. Identity says:

    I support Prof. Lele’s comments. Years ago, administrators held up “distance learning” as the way to cut costs and distribute knowledge more widely, but guess what? It’s actually more expensive to do that kind of educational provision because students need to talk with each other and their instructor in order to learn. And so distance learning had to mimic what classroom instruction does already. MOOC’s are like this too. They are only “cheaper” if they remain at the level of performance. But a lot of education is not glamorous…it’s about creating the conditions for real learning. And that requires time, effort and creativity, not performing for untold millions. MOOC-style talks could be free, sure. But real education isn’t free. Someone does need to pay for it. It’s expensive, and it should be, if it’s going to be effective. Students in Quebec know that education matters, and they don’t want it to be free. They just want it to be public…and that’s very different from the MOOC ideal.

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