People Formally Known as Students

30 October 2012


Alison Byerly posts on an Inside Higher Ed blog the interesting issue of what we call people engaging with MOOCs, are they really students?

"If we allow the word "student" to lose its primary meaning as a person formally engaged in learning through enrollment in a school or college, a person toward whom that institution and its faculty assume some responsibility, then we undermine the case for colleges and universities as the place where students go to meet their educational goals."

She makes the point that in a formal education context, like a university, students are privileged in that they are the focus of academic work. MOOCs may increase access but they do so by further separating people who learn from experts who model what it is to have learnt well a particular subject. The post makes a number of important points, including drawing attention to the responsibility of institutions to be clear about who is actually teaching their courses and the status they have. Pressures to maintain institutional reputations are seeing a number of institutions 'shopping' for academics, some apparently are doing so purely on the basis of a few recordings, others closer to home have been appointed purely on their research without regard for the need for them to teach.

"it is important to recognize that what distinguishes a "course" from a set of lectures -- regardless of which is face-to-face and which is online -- is the difference between a mere broadcast of information, and a mutual commitment by teacher and student to a pedagogical relationship"

Virtually the entire value of an university degree hinges on the reputation of the institution that awarded it and we need to be constantly vigilant about any degradation of that reputation. One of the comments on the post is a warning to us all:

"why should we be so precious in defending a broken, elitest educational system that is currently under-delivering on education, jobs, etc while massively overcharging for it?"

MOOCs are not the solution to these challenges and we need far stronger leadership in higher education if we are to demonstrate why.