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Liberal Education Fall 2013 issue cover image

Current Issue:
Fall 2013, Vol. 99, No. 4

Massive Open Online Courses

The authors of this issue’s featured articles take a hard look at the phenomenon of the MOOC, the hype surrounding it, and its relation to the aims and purposes of both liberal learning and democratic education. Other authors provide a critique of competency-based education, take stock of the achievements and shortcomings of European educational reform fifteen years into the Bologna Process, propose a new field of interfaith studies, call for educators to promote civil discourse, and reflect on the “liberating” aspects of a liberal education.




President’s Message
If Competency Is the Goal, Then Students’ Own Work Is the Key to Reaching It
By Carol Geary Schneider
Ultimately, we need to evaluate the “transformative” claims made for any specific innovation—whether digital, face-to-face, or blended—against the evidence of student competency that is
(or is not) transparently demonstrated in students’ own portfolios of educational accomplishments.

From the Editor

News and Information


The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform
By Aaron Bady
There is almost nothing new about the kind of online education that the word MOOC now describes. It’s been given a great deal of hype and publicity, but that aura of “innovation” poorly describes a technology that is not that distinct from the longer story of online education and that is designed
to reinforce and reestablish the status quo.

A Plea for “Close Learning”
By Scott L. Newstok
Some people pushing for MOOCs, to their credit, speak from laudably egalitarian impulses to provide access for disadvantaged students. But to what are these students being given access? Are broadcast lectures and online discussions the sum of a liberal education, or is it something
more than “content” delivery?

MOOCs and Democratic Education

By Leland Carver and Laura M. Harrison
If MOOCs are truly on the point of “revolutionizing” higher education, then several important questions must urgently be raised and discussed—questions grounded in core social beliefs about the purpose of education.


Experience Matters: Why Competency-Based Education Will Not Replace Seat Time
By Johann N. Neem
A good liberal arts education is not just about learning to write well or to think critically, or any other specific outcome or competency. Instead, it is also about putting students into contexts in which they are exposed to new ideas, asked to chew on them, and to talk or write about them.

A Troubled Adolescence: What the Fifteenth Birthday of the Bologna Process Means for Liberal Education
By Paul L. Gaston
If the vision of Bologna should prove insufficient to sustain its agenda, the most important accomplishment of the Bologna Process may be its having established a base camp from which a more important climb can begin.

Toward a Field of Interfaith Studies

By Eboo Patel
Scholars from a range of fields have long taken an interest in how people who orient around religion differently interact with one another. As the activity in this area increases, one crucial role for the academy is to give some definition to what is clearly an emerging field of research, study, and practice.

A Plea for Civil Discourse: Needed, the Academy’s Leadership
By Andrea Leskes
Once we accept that students need to become adept civil discoursers—for their own and democracy’s good—how can college education foster this important skill?


Thoughts on a “Liberating” Education
By Robert A. Scott
Undergraduate education is and must be as much about character and citizenship as about careers and commerce.