Sunday, February 10, 2013

Volatility in the Academic Workplace: Challenges of Online Learning

Digital media and global telecommunications are driving new forms of schooling at every level of education across age cohorts. Competency rather than “seat time” is becoming the standard for assessment and achievement.  The American Council on Education recently announced that four Coursera courses are worthy of college credit if anti-cheating measures are enforced.  (,0,573675.story)

In 1999 I wrote that like workers in many fields, academics worried whether their skills would be needed and whether their best would be good enough for the emerging world of digital media and telecommunications. (Knowledge in a Learning Universe: Collaborative, Recursive, and Digital)  Today, globalized higher education is upon us and professional anxieties are experienced as personal emergencies about career and livelihood.  The future contours of higher education institutions are unclear as the job insecurities of faculty and administrators coexist with the challenges to business models and historical claims of the academy to exclusive rights to generate and husband “knowledge.” Faculty resistance to online innovations is frequently expressed in terms of concerns for accountability and student access to faculty. These are often the same faculty who lecture to hundreds of students in a large hall and defer to teaching assistants to carry on direct conversations with students.

The debut of MOOCs such as Coursera, EdX and Udacity presents new opportunities and challenges for students, institutions, and faculty. Global access to courses taught by faculty at one university and accessible to students at other institutions creates opportunities for institutions to target funds for focus on particular fields at the same time such “sharing” obviously threatens jobs, career paths and many if not most of the conventional values and norms of autonomous liberal arts colleges and universities. 

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