MOOCs and The Praetorian Guards
Readers of this post need few reminders that the University is one of the chief underpinnings of all civilized societies. This outcome has been a long time in the making. The first university, in Fes, was established in the 9th Century. In the next one hundred years followed great universities in Cairo, Baghdad, Bologna, Paris and Oxford. Over the last millenium, one would be hard find a better example of great human endeavor.
If there place on the whole entire planet deserving of the accolade “hallowed ground”, where else but at well-established universities? If the university is not “the last best hope of the planet“, then what is?
On those grounds come the daily battle against ignorance, stupidity and intellectual cowardice. They are not just sanctuaries of learning and inquiry, they are where brave souls gather themselves against evil, oppression and tryany. They are the research labs and libraries for the advancement of science, math, engineering, medicine, botany, agronomy, and architecture; the headquarters for literature, history, music, poetry, language. Best of all, an environment for lifelong fellowship and uncompromising scholarship.
They have built have built a mighty legacy through exceptionally strict admission requirements, very high standards of excellence demanded from students, professors, faculty and administrators.Their worry beads are worn down by who is credentialed with their brand.
Getting inside Fort Knox is easier than becoming a University Praetorian Guards. Getting away with an “Partnership Agreement” is something neither Willy Sutton nor Harry Houdini could have even imagined.
Yet Coursera Incorporated, leader of the (for profit) MOOC Parade, now brandishes such an Agreement. How could that happen?
It happened, I say, because there is an Achilles Heel inside every university worth its salt. Deep within their culture – in fact deep within their soul – is the conviction that all humankind is well served by the acquisition of knowledge of a kind that the University is wonderfully geared to provide.
The guards at Fort Knox are under no such handicap. Neither is Rolex, Tiffany or Rolls Royce. If you want from them a “partnership” license be prepared for boatloads of microscopic scrutiny, unyielding compliance requirements and lots of hard, hard cash paid in advance.
Don’t even knock on their doors if you aren’t well-prepared.
So, now come the MOOCs –Massive Open Online Courses. Open to anyone anywhere. Free as well. No less than 33 very fine universities have been tapped into by the leader of the for-profit MOOC parade. Haven’t you heard? Coursera Incorporated is out to do lots of good.
Which is most certainly true. Now that they have gotten passed the Praetorian Guards of 33 Very Fine Universities, they are well positioned to do lots of good.
But for whom? Who do you think comes first? Their investors? Or the students?