About: The Book

(From the introduction):

Around 2012-13, the phrase “the MOOC Moment” appeared in dozens (if not hundreds) of titles and headlines for presentations, blog posts, chapters, academic articles, and mainstream media pieces, certainly in part because of the words’ alliterative qualities, but also because it neatly described for many observers what was happening. Massive Open Online Courses appeared to come from nowhere and in an instant. Then, when MOOCs failed to transform higher education as we know it, the phrase “the MOOC Moment” was rolled out in titles and headlines to note the temporary and past-tense status of MOOCs. The moment had passed.

More Than a Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs argues MOOCs were never an entirely new phenomenon and MOOCs and their influences are far from over. This book explores the context around and within MOOCs, both in terms of the history of higher education that enabled MOOCs, and also the situation within MOOCs themselves. The speed of the rise and fall of MOOCs was unprecedented, but the pattern is not. There have been numerous innovations and experiments in distance education over the past 150 or so years in American higher education, most of which promised to extend the opportunity to attend college to people who do not have the means or access to a traditional college education. These experiments have threatened the existing structure of higher education and have also emboldened education entrepreneurs focused on turning a profit. MOOCs and their futures demonstrate the ways in which higher education depends on centuries of tradition while simultaneously challenging the methods of delivery, the roles of students and instructors, and the shifting definition of “education” itself.

More Than a Moment asks:

  • Where did MOOCs come from, and how have they followed and deviated from the history of distance education technologies?
  • What can we learn from the experiences of MOOC students and teachers about their future potential for both “learning” and “institutional education?”
  • How can we learn from the MOOC phenomenon to recognize the opportunities and threats of future innovations in distance education and in partnerships between nonprofit institutions and for-profit educational entrepreneurs?

I begin with an introduction in order to contextualize my position as scholar in Composition and Rhetoric at a regional and opportunity-granting university in Southeast Michigan and to also draw an important distinction between “learning” and “institutional education,” themes I return to throughout the rest of the book.

Chapter 1, “MOOCs in the University Context: The Rapid Rise, Fall, and Failure of MOOC in Higher Education” is an overview of beginning of MOOCs as a relatively limited Canadian experiment in hybrid face-to-face and online teaching to their swift rise as a threat to the ongoing existence of universities and higher education, which was just as swiftly followed by their dramatic fall. I outline this trajectory and then offer my explanation as to the ways MOOCs proved to be ineffective as a way of delivering institutional education.

Chapter 2, “MOOCs as a Continuation of Distance Education Technologies,” is a selective history of some of the key innovations in distance education that preceded MOOCs: correspondence study of the late 19th and early 20th century, radio and television courses in the middle of the 20th century, and the first wave of online courses and degree programs in the late 20th century. Despite the claims from MOOC entrepreneurs and enthusiastic media pundits, MOOCs are not entirely “new”; rather, MOOCs emerged from these distance education technologies, all of which either continue as an accepted means of delivering higher education or, in the case of public radio and television, have found relevance beyond institutional education.

After the historic overview of these two chapters, I shift to an analysis of the contexts within MOOCs. Chapter 3, “MOOCs in the Student Context,” is about my own experiences as a student beginning with my active enrollment and participation in MOOCs in 2012 and concluding with my most recent (albeit incomplete) MOOC studies in 2017. This is followed by Chapter 4, “MOOCs in the Faculty Context,” which is based on interviews I conducted in 2015 with faculty and graduate assistants involved in the development and teaching of six different MOOCs. The faculty perspectives here are importantly different from those of those MOOC enthusiasts who tend to be administrators or entrepreneurs, and I also think these interviews say a lot about teaching practices in more conventional university settings too.

I conclude with “The Present and (Fuzzy and Difficult to Predict) Future of MOOCs and Beyond.” As that mouthful of a chapter title suggests, I qualify my predictions of what’s next because there have been too many predictions of the inevitability of MOOCs disrupting higher education that have been spectacularly wrong. Still, I am willing to predict that the future of MOOCs will continue to be important, particularly outside of higher education. The concerns and fears of MOOCs that preoccupied many academics from about 2012 to 2014 have passed.  But the increasing role of Online Program Management companies in the marketing, development, and delivery of distance education threatens to make the distinction between nonprofit universities and for-profit educational companies even more complicated.