Eppler’s Rebuttal: Do you support Brown’s online learning venture?

Opinions Columnist
Friday, October 12, 2012


Like most defenders of Coursera and the MOOC model, Gabriella Corvese ’15 makes a false promise to the non-traditional students of the world. Like most MOOC advocates, Corvese bases her claim on the argument that MOOCs are “a resource for people who may not be able to receive a Brown education through traditional means, be it for economic reasons, a disability or anything else.” It’s hard to disagree with this egalitarian sentiment. But I want to provide the benefits of a Brown education to all capable students too.

The problem with Corvese’s argument is that MOOCs are fundamentally incapable of providing a Brown education, for the reasons described in my opening statement. MOOCs cannot provide opportunities for guided independent study and research, among other critical components of a Brown education. A “certificate of completion” from a MOOC will never be viewed as the equal of a Brown degree in the eyes of an employer, due to the accountability issues described in my opening statement.

This dilemma is the aforementioned “false promise” of MOOC advocates. MOOC advocates promise the benefits of a college education, but provide a “second-class” educational experience. The egalitarian rhetoric hides the fact that the same individuals disadvantaged in the conventional college system will remain disadvantaged. In fact, MOOCs may decrease the ability of these groups to access a Brown education: If administrators believe those with limited financial means are equally well served by Coursera offerings, they may reduce financial aid and direct students to Coursera.

Perhaps the Coursera advocates in Brown’s administration have not considered the implications of this “false promise” and are acting in good faith. But there is another, more insidious prospect. The Washington Post reported that the controversial firing of University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan occurred in part because board members believed that Sullivan was not doing enough to expand Virginia’s online offerings. Perhaps our administrators feared that they, too, would be fired for failing to follow the latest pedagogical trend. If so, Corvese’s “everyone else is doing it” argument takes a dark turn: Our administrators have blindly followed a trend, and have harmed the people they hope to assist.

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  1. Everybody is confusing MOOC = Massive OPEN Online Courses COURSERA with MITx + Harvardx.
    They are 100 % apart from each other .
    Coursera is a marketing genius. They woke up whole world in 4-5 months regarding online .
    Unfortunately even eli,te universities are trying to follow this path. Even they penalise Teresa. Shame .
    MOOC is not a university education , it is courses for adults . And it will not be free either.

    MITx + harvardx is real university education same courses as oncampus courses.
    I suggest to Brown University to join the MITx + Harvardx club.
    It is none profit real education experience, MIT has its own platform, they provide certificates after veery rigid requirements of homeworks, midterms, forums, finals . WE, employers , will give high value to these certificates and later may be degrees . Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

  2. Gentelmen
    Please thinks twice.
    Not everybody can go to MIT, or Harvard, or Brown.
    It requires certain level of SAT in the first place .
    There are many students in the USA who cannot do the work of MIT and Harvard or Brown .
    So scale required for online can be complemented globally .
    Only 13 % of the MITx first course is attended by USA students .

    MOOC is not a solution for HE but MITx + Harvardx are . Please make the distinction .
    Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

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