The MOOC World Part 3: Faculty and Staff Benefits and Costs

Probably the most confusion and emotional content around MOOCs comes from the academic community, which is understandable given that much of the rhetoric is about both increasing the quality of course material (which implies that faculty currently do a poor job) and also cutting costs (which again translates as faculty pay).  So many faculty see themselves as beset by unfriendly forces, buried in the digital threat.  So what are some of the benefits and costs?

  • Benefits: Presents materials globally vs. a traditional small classroom setting
  • Allows innovative or highly specialized course offerings w/o concern of immediate profitability
  • Promotes global student participation, interaction
  • Steep learning curve to course development as have a need to design compelling intellectual questions to drive analysis/learning process in very diverse student body

Costs: Very high labor costs up front w/o ability to predict revenue stream

  • Need to update-maintain course materials, can be very intensive depending on course material
  • Labor costs to process-analyze-feedback-grade student materials [Edinburgh MOOC class ~300 students each week must have all materials processed so can proceed with dialogs]

As with the other groups, the reality is rather complex.  In many ways the discussion has more to do with current social perceptions of the elitist status of higher education and also the perceived limited value of such education.  This is also conflated with the stereotype of faculty as overpaid and underworked.  The MOOC is just one of the manifestations of this larger social issue, but this is also why it is so threatening to many faculty.  This is especially true of the MOOC platforms begin to compete directly with classic on-campus ‘seat’ students, especially in the “general education” courses that provide the economic backbone for many faculty salaries.  However, if the situation is flipped, it can be said that participation in the MOOC world can actually free up faculty from generic GedEd courses and allow them to teach to their special interests and skills, since they are now looking at a global pool of potential students.  This is probably the central area where management groups such as Boards of Regents have to step in and become active forces.

University administrations (at least in Europe and the U.S.) have become consumed by the need to make revenue in a world of declining government/foundation largess.  In essence universities have become ‘for profit’ entities, as they need to cover their current and future costs based on tuition and revenue sources.  In this logic, cutting labor costs (i.e., faculty) has become commonplace, with the number of tenured positions vanishing, replaced by contracted short-term or part-time faculty.  MOOC development requires stable faculty participation, both for initial development and persistence.  This will only continue when faculty have some guarantees both that they will have the freedom to develop unique course MOOC offerings, and also that they have negotiated substantial revenue to enable them to develop and manage MOOC courses.  Intellectual property rights, especially given recent Supreme Court decisions related to software, suggest that faculty have substantial rights to the materials they develop, irregardless of signed contracts.  In addition as these MOOC courses gain in age, questions of persistent rights which can be seen as syndication rights will come into play.

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