Lessons From Civilization

By Joshua Okorie. Joshua, 24, is a National Youth Service Corps member in Nigeria.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), contradict traditional university online courses as they open up access to everyone who has internet access. Furthermore, its massive scale is designed to accommodate literally an infinite number of students. The ‘label-name,’ MOOCs was coined by Dave Comier. With the recent introduction of MOOCs in 2008 by the Siemen and Downes’ course it may be premature to judge the MOOCs’ performance, fate, future and promise for Higher Education; however, with the much increasing popularity, interest, concern and misconception of how MOOCs will impact Higher Education, objective assessment of MOOCs’ mission in the education market, using lessons from human civilization, is warranted.

The higher education market is a very restricted market; reserved only for those who can afford it. However alleviation of human ignorance, the development of human mind, human freedom and human choice are the important moral duties of the modern education system and it must not fail to attend to them. The restriction into Higher Education market, therefore, creates an inimical vacuum that MOOCs came to fill. The development of MOOCs is rooted within the ideals of openness in education, that knowledge should be shared freely, and the desire to learn should be met without demographic, economic and geographic constraints. MOOCs, thus, are not a human want but a human need.

The argument against MOOCs is staked on protecting the ‘overarching institutional mission’, believed to be the hedge around our civilization. Hayek was an Austrian economist and philosopher, for him, ‘the modern man prides himself that he has built our civilization as if in doing so he had carried out a plan which he had before formed in his mind’. Attempts to discourage the eureka answer provided by MOOCs to the human want of lifelong learning just to avoid mere speculative disruption in the current higher education system is akin to us preplanning our civilization in the education system like the modern man Hayek talked about.

The result is that this modern man styled pride will be the hindrance of further civilization. According to Hayek, the fact is, of course, that if at any point of the past, man mapped out his future on the basis of the then-existing knowledge and followed this plan, we would not be where we are. We would not only be much poorer, we would not only be less wise, but we also be less gentle, less moral…’ and will continue to restrict fellow men from escaping ignorance and getting into increased freedom and increased choices.

‘Our civilization is indeed is indeed largely an unforeseen and unintended outcome’ of innovation and flexibility. Harvard Business School 2010, speaks of innovation as creating a culture that everyone can easily follow. The innovation inherent in MOOCs is no doubt pointing to some positive revolutionary trends in higher education. For example, one of the strengths of MOOCs is readiness of a platform for social networking and interaction amongst likeminded academics. In a recently concluded course I participated in, a student wanted the attention of fellow computer scientists, and thus he placed a notice on the discussion board, and within minutes he got six responses. Perhaps they will form a research team, perhaps they will exchange professional ideas; I can scarcely be certain but my ‘Writing in The Science’ course in Stanford online offered me a great opportunity to meet other wonderful writers with very different but unique backgrounds and from whom I benefitted immensely. What more?

‘MOOCs provide a power tool to make fundamental changes in the organization and delivery of higher education over the next decade. For example institutions such as MIT, Stanford and Harvard use MOOCs to understand ‘how students learn’ and ‘improve innovations in teaching and learning on campus.’ MOOCs are clear in their agenda – to explore innovative ways to improve classroom education, and not to replace it.

I, however, will not refuse to accommodate some concerns about MOOCs. MOOCs may be the model reincarnation of what brought the radical changes in Higher Education in the early 1990s. ‘Essentially, access to was given to anyone with mailbox through correspondence courses’ but academic rigor, instructional quality and course completion questions were not clearly and properly answered. But then considering the level of the impact and results from such courses one would definitely say enrolling in such courses was not regretted: it was one of catalysts that transformed Western education into global education; it is one of the means through which the earliest scholars, particularly the poor, especially benefitted. Human minds were developed, human freedom was warranted and human choices and character were multiplied.

For MOOCs, its inherent innovation and flexibility will in time answer most of the questions yet be answered. With the high cost of launching open courses, (‘in edX, $250,000 per course with an additional fee of $50,000 each time the course is offered again’) MOOCs may in the near future be morphed from ‘being open to learners’ to ‘being easily opened by learners’. Such commitments will cater for the problem of high dropout rate as financial commitment will deter unserious students from entering the course – maybe such fees will be incentives to hire instructors to grade students’ papers. But then technology is advancing, edX is developing software for grading, and Coursera is using already Pearsons for grading students’ performance. Future technology innovations and ingenuity may be likely to provide a qualitative student’s assessment mechanism(s) – necessity they say is the mother of invention.

A quality assessment component added to MOOCs will transform MOOCs and Higher Education radically. Quality assessment components added to MOOCs will not only solve the puzzle of incredibility of students’ performance and assessment, but also that of accreditation for many MOOCs courses.

Discussions, concerns and criticisms MOOCs have received are not unwarranted. The MOOCs, to prevent them derailing from their intended mission, need to be informed by criticism, tutored with skepticism, schooled in objectivism, molded with caution and inspired by excellence. For now, it is only forerunning a model future for higher education, the contrary preposition seems strong, but there is no need to invite a mosquito to a meeting on how to cure malaria. Thank you.

2 comments on “Lessons From Civilization

  1. Shane Willms on

    I does seem to me, that some are unable or unwilling to support MOOC- type endeavours. It is plausible that some have vested interested in inhibiting online affordable alternatives. Working together to take advantage of relatively easily disseminated affordable education seems to me in the greatest interest to the greatest number of humans, Given that we are 7+ billion, the smarter, more understandable and perhaps wiser we are, the better chance we have to support each others life experiences and environs.

  2. Omosimua Solomon on

    a lots of persons still do not believe in MOOC simply because our nation give less or no regards to those who got their certificate through online means. and another problem i see in this, is that a lot of persons also are computer ignorant that certifiably makes matters to be difficult
    for them. the solution to boost MOOC is an awareness campaign by those who have gone through it and have benefited a lot from it. that will certainly make people to love and value MOOC. the government have a lot of role to play in this, by encouraging individual by media means, this also will reduced their expenses spent in education.


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