A MOOC Moratorium at American University

10 May, 2013

On January 9, 2013, the provost at American University (AU), Scott A. Bass, issued a Memorandum to the deans regarding AU policy on MOOCs. After the April debate, sparked by the faculty members of San Jose State U, Amherst College and Duke U, the administration of AU decided to make its position more public and on March 8, 2013 sent the following statement to university faculty and staff to clarify the university’s “moratorium” on creating massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

How does it add to the debate launched by San Jose State? Both universities seem to be on the same “side of the barricade”, strongly opposing the rise of MOOCs. But in fact, a fundamental, long-standing issue, at the very heart of the university system, is brought into discussion: the issue of academic freedom and autonomy of faculty.

The two universities demonstrate quite different interpretation of it. In San Jose, the philosophy department is alarmed by the possible loss of influence in decision making process, prospects of diminishing their professorial status and job security; they also argued for student interests. In AU, Wash.D.C., the administration did not bring students into picture at all. No pedagogical or tech concerns raised, just the utilization of university resources (academic, human, financial) and total control of the faculty. The moratorium forbids any experimentation with online teaching, unless it does not violate one of the 7 “quidelines” for “permissible creative online activity“. In the meantime, the administration continues to draft a policy how the massive online courses would operate there: in institutional partnerships or freelance-based, when professors would teach MOOCs on their own – and bringing up new issues of representation, teaching time, working load, promotion, tenure.

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