Beki Grinter

MOOCS: Another To-Do in a Culture of Busyness

In academia, academic management, discipline on July 30, 2012 at 10:22 am

My institution, Georgia Tech, recently signed up as a participant institution in the Coursera MOOC. This, and other events, have caused a lot of discussion about MOOCS. I won’t rehash them all here, but I will point to Mark and Ian’s blog posts about learning and the assertions made both explicitly and implicitly made.

I was doing my readings about MOOCs while reading another book, an ethnography of the contemporary LA middle class family. It’s a rich portrait of the lives of 32 families specifically, and a reflection on our lives at home. And this led me to another question I have about MOOCS. When, exactly, are we supposed to find the time for the courses?

It’s not just the faculty instructors who have to take on workload to prepare the course (at Georgia Tech this is extra workload not associated with or balanced against our other responsibilities). But, what about those who take the classes. This imagined modern American learner likely has many things to juggle, a job (or multiple jobs), a family, and so forth. As the book makes painfully clear, the average American has very little time left to spend on anything, let alone education. So, how are they supposed to cram in a 6 week course and assignments on top of all the other responsibilities?

I wonder whether the high rates of dropping out can be partially explained by people wanting to learn, feeling that education and self-improvement (which is a big industry marketing its own life-long worth) matter, but then it turns out to be impossible to juggle the programming assignment with their children’s homework and extra-curricula activities. If, as this book claims, Americans are down to meals that last less than 30 minutes and don’t feature all the family, because they are so pressed for time, where does a MOOC come into that equation?

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