Saturday, February 23, 2013

From Maureen Dowd to MOOCs

Maureen Dowd just published a column on Sheryl Sandberg's attempt to go from Facebook exec to feminist working-mom icon through her "Lean In" book-web-marketing push. Dowd's words may apply as well to the "online education" evangelists, pushing the Massive Online-Only Courses (MOOCs) mentioned earlier on this blog. Substitute "online education movement" or "MOOC professor" for "Sandberg"/"herself" and "education" for "social movement" and "social idealism":

Sandberg ... doesn’t understand the difference between a social movement and a social network marketing campaign. Just because digital technology makes connecting possible doesn’t mean you’re actually reaching people.

People come to a social movement from the bottom up, not the top down. Sandberg has co-opted the vocabulary and romance of a social movement not to sell a cause, but herself.

She says she’s using marketing for the purpose of social idealism. But she’s actually using social idealism for the purpose of marketing.
I think it's fitting to switch around the nouns on this passage because the underlying question is what technology can truly accomplish. It can do a lot. Online technology has great promise for expanding education, but it can not supplant the college experience.
Thousands of "students" in a MOOC imply that the teacher of the MOOC must be better than other teachers -- but what it really means is that the prof in front of the MOOC is at a more-elite, more-connected institution, and, yes, may be a better scholar. But do we really think the best scholars are de facto the best teachers? Was Einstein renowned for his large lecture courses?
Take heed, MOOCs: "Connecting" people is not "reaching" people.

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