Liberal Education

The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform

The MOOC phenomenon has happened very quickly, to put it mildly. Last November, the New York Times declared 2012 to be “the Year of the MOOC” (Pappano 2012), and while it feels (at least to me) like we’ve been talking about MOOCs for years now, the speed by which the MOOC has become the future of higher education is worth thinking carefully about, both because it’s an important way to frame what is happening and because that speed warps the narrative we are able to tell about what is happening. Coursera, Udacity, and edX are all just over a year old, and while the first two—which are Silicon Valley startups out of Stanford, essentially—have already enrolled millions of students, the nonprofit consortium edX has grown just as prodigiously. Beginning as a partnership between Harvard and MIT, edX now includes a dozen different universities, and that number will surely grow.

The MOOC phenomenon is also a shift in discourse, a shift that’s happened so quickly and so recently that it fills up our mental rear-view mirror. When the word “MOOC” was first coined in 2008, by a set of Canadian academics who needed a term to describe the experiment in pedagogy they were putting together, the word itself was a niche term that most people in higher education would not hear about, or need to. In the last year, the MOOC has gone from a rather singular experiment in connectivist and distributed learning to a behemoth force that we are told is reshaping the face of higher education. And whether MOOCs are disrupting education through innovation—as Clay Christensen’s model of disruptive innovation in business would have it—or simply representing the disruption of education as it is embedded in the market, the phenomenon under discussion has changed quite dramatically as it has migrated from Canada to Silicon Valley.

This is why it’s interesting to note that Inside Higher Ed’s new booklet of essays, “The MOOC moment,” introduces its subject by observing that “the acronym MOOC (for massive open online course) first appeared in Inside Higher Ed in December 2011, in reference to a course offered by a Stanford University professor. These days, the acronym is omnipresent and—to many—needs no definition” (Inside Higher Ed 2013, 3). I would say in response that this apparent lack of a need for a definition is exactly why we need to slow things down and figure out what the heck we’re talking about. For one thing, when we start the story in 2011, we forget about the 2008 MOOCs, and if the MOOCs are the future and the future is now, then it tends to have little to do with what was happening at the University of Manitoba in 2008, or why.

The MOOC that debuted in Inside Higher Ed in December 2011 was Sebastian Thrun’s “Artificial Intelligence” MOOC, a course that was offered at Stanford but opened up to anyone with a broadband Internet connection. The way this story is usually told is that his incredible success—160,000 students from 190 countries—encouraged Thrun to leave Stanford in order to try the new model of pedagogy he had stumbled upon. After seeing a TED talk given by Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, Thrun decided to give it a whirl, and it was a huge success. In January 2012, he founded the startup Udacity, and the rest is history.

However, another way to tell the story is that Thrun was a Google executive—already well known for his work on Google’s driverless car project—and that he had already resigned his tenure at Stanford in April 2011, before he even offered that artificial intelligence class. Ending his affiliation with Stanford could be described as completing his transition to Silicon Valley proper. In fact, despite Inside Higher Ed’s singular “a Stanford University professor,” Thrun co-taught the famous course with Google’s director of research, Peter Norvig. It’s important to tell the story this way, too, because the first story makes us imagine a groundswell of market forces and unmet need, a world of students begging to be taught by a Stanford professor and Google, and the technological marvels that suddenly make it possible. But it’s not education that’s driving this shifting conversation. As the MOOC became something very different in migrating to Silicon Valley, it’s in stories told by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Time magazine that the MOOC comes to seem like an immanent revolution whose pace is set by necessity and inevitability.

It would be an exaggeration to say that a David Brooks column and a few articles in the Wall Street Journal were the cause of the abrupt firing of the president of the University of Virginia (UVa) in June 2012, for example, but it would not be that much of an exaggeration. As we can now roughly reconstruct—from e-mails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the UVa student newspaper—UVa’s rector and vice rector essentially engineered Teresa Sullivan’s resignation because they decided she was moving too slowly on online education. And what you get from reading these e-mails is an overwhelming sense of speed, which they are repeating, verbatim, from the articles they are e-mailing and forwarding to each other. The rector e-mailed a Wall Street Journal column titled “Higher Education’s Online Revolution” with the subject line “good piece in WSJ today—why we can’t afford to wait,” for example, an article she had gotten from a major donor who suggested that it was “a signal that the on-line learning world has now reached the top of the line universities and they need to have strategies or will be left behind.” She immediately replied: “Your timing is impeccable—the BOV is squarely focused on UVa’s developing such a strategy and keenly aware of the rapidly accelerating pace of change.” At a meeting of UVa deans and vice presidents, UVa’s rector said, “The board believes this environment calls for a much faster pace of change in administrative structure, in governance, in financial resource development and in resource prioritization and allocation. . . . We do not believe we can even maintain our current standard under a model of incremental, marginal change. The world is simply moving too fast.”

Where does such a person get this kind of conviction? You find the best examples of this kind of rhetoric in the New York Times. For example, Thomas Friedman (2013) recently argued that the “MOOCs revolution . . . is here and is real” and remarked on “how much today’s traditional university has in common with General Motors of the 1960s, just before Toyota used a technology breakthrough to come from nowhere and topple G.M.” This kind of comparison has become common sense. MOOCs are a “campus tsunami,” to use columnist David Brooks’s (2012) term, one that we all need to pay attention to before it’s too late.

A strange temporality

Where this urgency comes from, however, might be less important than what it does to our sense of temporality, how we experience and talk about the way we are, right now, in “the MOOC moment.” In the MOOC moment, it’s already too late—always already too late. The world not only will change, but it has changed. In this sense, it isn’t simply that “MOOCs are the future” or that “online education is changing how we teach.” Those kinds of platitudes are chokingly omnipresent, but the interesting thing is the fact that the future is already now, that it has already changed how we teach. If you don’t get on the MOOC bandwagon, yesterday, you’ll have already been left behind. The world has already changed. To stop and question that fact is to be already belated, behind the times.

The first thing I want to do, then, is to slow us down and go through the last year or so with a bit more care than we’re usually able to do—to do a “close reading” of the year of the MOOC, as it were—because, to be blunt, the MOOC only makes sense if you don’t think about it too much, if you’re in too much of a hurry to go deeply into the subject.

The logic of the MOOC is a function of shallow thinking, of arguments that go no deeper than a David Brooks or Thomas Friedman column. But they also valorize and reward that level of depth, even make it compulsory. MOOCs are literally built to cater to the attention span of a distracted, multitasking teenager who pays attention in cycles of ten to fifteen minutes. This is not a shot at teenagers, just an observation about what the form anticipates—and, therefore, rewards and reproduces. In place of the fifty-minute lectures that are the norm at my university, for example, a MOOC will break a unit of pedagogy down into YouTube-length clips that can be more easily digested, whenever and wherever. Much longer than that, and it falls apart; the TED talk is essentially the gold standard. But I want to suggest that the argument in favor of MOOCs can’t handle all that much complexity either. It makes sense at the speed of a TED talk or the length of a New York Times column, but starts to come apart very quickly if you go any deeper or longer than that.

The “MOOC moment” relies on a belated temporality where we’re always already behind the times, which is necessary to make the MOOC seem like the kind of self-fulfilling prophecy it has become. If Harvard, Stanford, and MIT are making MOOCs, then anyone who doesn’t jump on the bandwagon will be left behind. We don’t have to understand why it’s happening, where it’s going, or where it came from; the fact that it’s happening there is all the reason we need. Framed by this temporality, the MOOC becomes a kind of fetish object: because we treat its existence as self-evident fact—or to the extent that we treat its existence as a kind of self-evident fact—its objective reality obscures the contingencies of its production and the ideological formations that make it seem to exist. Why are Harvard, Stanford, and MIT making MOOCs? It doesn’t matter. Only the fact that they are making them is important.

This is a logic that particularly appeals to universities that aren’t in the Ivy league but see themselves at the forefront of higher education. But it’s also an argument that only works at the depth (or non-depth) of a David Brooks column, because its claims only work if you don’t interrogate their foundational premises too much.

For example, David Brooks (2012) began his “Campus Tsunami” column in this way: “Online education is not new. The University of Phoenix started its online degree program in 1989. Four million college students took at least one online class during the fall of 2007. But, over the past few months, something has changed. The elite, pace-setting universities have embraced the Internet. Not long ago, online courses were interesting experiments. Now online activity is at the core of how these schools envision their futures.” This is a sophisticated piece of discourse, in its way. By acknowledging that “online education is not new,” Brooks is working to distinguish the thing that is not new (online education) from the form of online education that is new, the MOOC. To rebrand online education—which has generally had a well-deserved bad reputation—he has to conjure forth this distinction, creating space between the old kind of online education (the University of Phoenix) and the new kind, which, because it is new, can shed that baggage. He therefore opens by acknowledging online education’s lack of novelty so he can then resituate our perspective in a different place, just ahead of the cutting edge: if the University of Phoenix’s online program is decades old—and, therefore, not cutting edge—the kind of online education that he’s interested in discussing, which is different from the University of Phoenix, is cutting edge. And the difference is a shift from the bottom to the top, from low prestige to high prestige: “over the past few months, something has changed. . . . The elite, pace-setting universities have embraced the Internet.”

What he’s not saying, of course—what he’s working very hard to un-say—is that Harvard is actually struggling to get where the University of Phoenix already was in 1989. You have to read him against the grain to draw that out, but it’s there. He’s essentially observing the way that Harvard is emulating the University of Phoenix. But, of course, that can’t be, can it? After all, by definition, Harvard, Stanford, and MIT are cutting-edge, while the University of Phoenix—a for-profit, low-prestige university that markets to nontraditional students and employs a no-name teaching staff—well, they can’t be the cutting edge, by definition.

These definitional “facts” allow Brooks to finesse a truly jaw-dropping rhetorical move: though he began with the statement that “online education is not new,” he manages, in only four sentences, to write the words: “Not long ago, online courses were interesting experiments.” How does he get from “online education is not new” (old hat, established, conventional) to the line “Not long ago, online courses were interesting experiments”? How does online education go from something older than most of our students to a temporality where it’s just on the cusp of being developed, where in very recent memory, it was pure speculative futurity, where it’s the future we hurtling backward into?

The key to this piece of rhetorical alchemy is that you can’t overthink it, in the way I just have. Brooks is taking something that lacks prestige and cultural capital—a mode of education that is not valuable, only expensive, not innovative or exciting—and placing the name “Harvard” around it, thereby making it into something that suddenly is both valuable and worthwhile, as a function of Harvard’s symbolic role in American higher education. And when he writes “Now online activity is at the core of how these schools envision their futures,” he means that because these schools are envisioning it—because attached to that brand—online education is now the future we must emulate and pursue. Because it’s at Harvard, it’s “now” instead of being where the University of Phoenix already was the year the Berlin Wall fell, before our students were born.

If I have one overarching takeaway point in this article, it’s that 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—or set of technological practices, to be more precise—that is not that distinct from the longer story of online education, and which is designed to reinforce and reestablish the status quo, to make tenable a structure that is falling apart.

If you read the people who were creating MOOCs in 2008, by contrast—as I’ve been doing—you’ll actually see a lot of thinking that’s kind of out there, as far as how we conceptualize what education is for and what it does. But the innovations in pedagogy that produced the first MOOC in 2008 at the University of Manitoba had to be forgotten and erased from the historical timeline if the MOOCs that we’re talking about were to become the standard bearer for “cutting edge.” When Inside Higher Ed writes about the MOOC moment, after all, that moment has to begin not in 2008, but in December 2011, and in Silicon Valley, where and when the hype machine really gets into gear.

Things are moving so fast because if we stopped to think about what we are doing, we’d notice that MOOCs both are not the same thing as normal education and are being positioned to replace “normal” education. But the pro-MOOC argument is always that it’s cheaper and almost never that it’s better. The most utopian MOOC boosters will rarely claim that MOOCs are of equivalent educational value; the most they’ll say is that someday they might be. This point is crucial to unpacking the hype: columnists, politicians, university administrators, educational entrepreneurs, and professors who are hoping to make their name by riding out this wave can all talk in such glowing terms about the onrushing future of higher education only because that future hasn’t actually happened yet. It’s still speculative in the sense that we’re all speculating about what it will look like. This means that the MOOC can be all things to all people because it is, literally, a speculation about what it might someday become.

To put my cards on the table, the MOOC seems to me like a speculative bubble, a product that’s being pumped up and overvalued by pro-business legislators, overzealous administrators, and a lot of hot air in the media. But like all speculative bubbles—especially the ones that originate in Silicon Valley—it will eventually burst. The only question is what things will look like when it does.

MOOCs and the future of public education

A bill currently before the California State Senate—SB520—will, if it passes, require all three sectors of California’s public university system to accept MOOCs from a certain approved list for course credit. The details are yet to be determined, and it seems most likely that the final bill will be something different from what was originally introduced. But the assumptions and ambitions of SB520 offer a useful way to frame the direction the MOOC tsunami is taking: the capture of public education.

For the Twenty Million Minds Foundation, one of the drivers behind the bill, SB520 is all about options, opportunity, and choice for students. The bill’s sponsor, Senate Pro-Tem President Darrell Steinberg, cites the very real problems of access to over-enrolled courses—and the fact that students are failing to graduate on time, because they cannot get required courses for their majors—and uses this as a rhetorical wedge to argue that MOOCs should actually be acceptable as replacements for normal college classes. As he put it, “We want to be the first state in the nation to make this promise: No college student in California will be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn’t get a seat in the course they needed” (quoted in Lewin 2013). But the irony of Steinberg’s formulation is that even he admits that instead of solving a problem that has a very simple definition—which is basically reducible to a number, the fact that there are more students than there are chairs and classrooms—they are simply redefining the problem, imagining into existence a chairless classroom.

The problem is real: years of consistent budget cuts have left public universities without the money to buy “chairs” (and everything that represents), so public universities have shifted the financial burden onto the backs of individual students, whose tuition now pays much more of the cost. Since educating more students would cost money—and it would also cost money to fully staff the necessary courses—there is no solution to the problem that does not require spending more money on chairs, classrooms, and teachers. MOOCs enter the picture, then, as a kind of fantasy solution to this unsolvable problem. Instead of addressing the problem by either admitting fewer students or adding more courses, we will define the problem differently: chairless classrooms! Everyone is happy.

In this case, the cliché that California is where everything happens first has some truth to it. If SB520 passes, it will define the shape of things to come not only by creating a model for other states to follow, but also by creating a kind of market value for MOOCs that didn’t exist before and that wouldn’t exist otherwise. By making certain selected MOOCs convertible into course credit—at California Community Colleges, California State Universities, and the University of California system—the legislature will quite literally create value where it didn’t exist before, by making MOOCs a thing that are worth paying for. This shift is important. But mandating that a MOOC is the same thing as college—that it can be literally credited as a college class—not only changes what a MOOC is, it changes what college is.

After all, if a MOOC is simply a free educational resource that you can find on the web—which is what MOOCs presently are—then there’s nothing to object to in them, and everything to like. Such a MOOC is an almost wholly good addition to the universe. Other than opportunity costs and the costs of a computer—which are not nothing, but they are also not that much—it’s simply a free and useful thing, available to those who want it. But the moment that such a use value becomes a market value, when it becomes something that can be exchanged for the kinds of course credits that students pay very high tuition for, MOOCs become a radically different beast with a radically different kind of economic value. It’ll be much easier to charge for them, on the one hand, and almost unthinkable that associated costs won’t rise, as they did with the once free California public universities (especially since Udacity and Coursera are literally for-profit enterprises). And on the other hand, they will radically devalue the resource that they can now be used to replace. If you can replace “chairs” (by which I mean the brick-and-mortar campus) with a chairless university—if those things are literally exchangeable—then the market value of “chairs” goes down, at the same time as the actual costs stay the same. If we can’t fully staff our classrooms now, how will we staff them in the future, when they have to compete with free?

To put it slightly differently, pumping up the value of MOOCs in this way—declaring, by legislative fiat, that MOOCs are now interchangeable with “real courses”—actually does have an important cost. If the platonic ideal of the classroom experience is the gold standard, then declaring that a bunch of other unrelated metals are also gold will lower its value, especially if those metals are freely available in infinite supplies. Why would someone pay a teacher to give one-on-one attention to students when those students could get the same formal credential from an online course? You can point out that there is an actual and effective difference between a student-to-professor ratio of seventeen to one and a ratio of ten thousand to one online. But once market equivalency has entered the equation, once the market recognizes an equivalence between a MOOC and an in-person class, pointing out the difference that is experienced by the student will be trumped by the equivalence of market logic, which will dictate paying for the cheaper of the two. An in-person education will become an unnecessary luxury, an ornamental marker of elite status.

To legislators, MOOCs can seem like a win-win solution to an otherwise intractable fiscal crisis. Students who are locked out of over-enrolled required courses can complete their degrees by taking those classes with an online provider, possibly even at a lower cost and at no extra cost to the state. Meanwhile, allowing Silicon Valley start-ups like Coursera and Udacity to offer courses that will transfer into the California State University and the University of California systems will give those companies a legitimacy in the education marketplace that they have never had before. When you see that Sebastian Thrun is one of the people who helped write SB520 and that Darrell Steinberg held his press conference announcing the bill on “Google Hangout,” a lot of things become clearer.

If this bill passes, the winners will be Silicon Valley and the austerity hawks in the California legislature. While the former will have privileged access to the largest student market in the state, the latter will be relieved of the burden of having to educate the state’s young people. The losers will be teachers and students.

The value of MOOCs

MOOC boosters live in the future. Actually existing MOOCs are a far cry from what their champions promise they will someday become, which allows us to gloss over any troubling trends in their present day iteration. After all, MOOC boosters like to brag about the thousands of students—even hundreds of thousands—who sign on to learn from super-professors like Harvard’s Michael Sandel or Sebastian Thrun. But completion rates for these courses consistently hover in the single digits. A software engineering MOOC taught by University of California–Berkeley professor David Patterson in May 2012, for example, may have enrolled over fifty thousand students, but fewer than four thousand actually completed the course—and this is typical. What’s more, as Patterson himself was quick to observe, his MOOC was a “cheating-rich environment” (quoted in Meyer 2012). It’s safe to assume that the number of students who actually completed the course is somewhat lower than even the 7 percent who received a completion certificate.

This doesn’t mean that MOOCs are without value, of course. Just because most of Patterson’s students didn’t complete his course doesn’t mean they didn’t benefit from taking it, and it seems reasonable to assume that many online learners are not interested in completion certificates. Patterson observed, for example, that many of his students already had degrees, and that some were instructors themselves. For learners wishing to brush up skills or keep abreast of new pedagogy, a MOOC might be just the thing. In applied fields like software engineering, where the ability to code is a valuable enough skill that course credit becomes almost irrelevant—and where the material lends itself naturally to online instruction—the free availability of high-quality course materials is an almost pure social good.

It does, however, demonstrate what the technology is not good at: accreditation and mass education. The MOOC rewards self-directed learners who have the resources and privilege that allow them to pursue learning for its own sake. But if you want it to function as a gate-keeping mechanism, which is one of the things that universities do, it’s not very good at that. A MOOC is almost designed to make cheating even easier than ever before. MOOCs are also a really poor way to make educational resources available to underserved and underprivileged communities, which has been the historical mission of public education. Historically, public systems like California’s have provided high-quality education to citizens of the state who could not have gotten the equivalent anywhere else. MOOCs promise to see to it that what the public universities are able to provide is not, in every sense, the equivalent of what rich people’s kids get.

The irony is that when the term was first coined in 2008, this was all quite well understood. The MOOC came into existence as something that, by its very nature, could never be used to replace a normal college class. The whole point was that it was something fundamentally different from a college class.

Dave Cormier originally suggested the name for an experiment in open courseware that George Siemens and Stephen Downes were putting together at the University of Manitoba, a class of twenty-five students that was opened up to over 1,500 online participants. For them, this MOOC was part of a long-running engagement with connectivist principles of education, rooted in the idea that we learn best when we learn collaboratively, in networks, because the process of learning is less about acquiring new knowledge—the commodified “content” that a Udacity or edX MOOC tries to reify and market—and much more about building the social and neural connections that will allow knowledge to circulate, be used, evolve, and grow. A class that’s animated by a contractual agreement that spells out the costs, requirements, and credential to be acquired is one thing, and it may even be a good thing; but the goal of these original MOOCs was to foster an educational process that was something totally different. It would be as exploratory and creative as its participants chose to make it. It was about building a sense of community investment in a particular project, a fundamentally socially driven enterprise, and its outcomes were to be fluid and open-ended. I would argue that getting a “grade” for such a thing—or charging money for it—would be fundamentally to change what it is.

Today’s MOOC looks very different, starting with the central narrative of “disruption” and “unbundling.” Instead of building social information networks, the neoliberal MOOC is driven by a desire to liberate and empower the individual, breaking apart actually existing academic communities and refocusing on the individual’s acquisition of knowledge. The MOOC being praised by utopian technologists in the New York Times might be the diametric opposite of what Siemens, Downes, and Cormier said they were trying to create, in this sense, even though it deploys some of the same idealistic rhetoric. Rather than transferring course content from expert to student, the original MOOCs stemmed from a connectivist desire to decentralize and de-institutionalize education, creating fundamentally open and open-ended networks of circulation and collaboration. But the MOOCs being developed by Silicon Valley startups Udacity and Coursera, as well as by nonprofit initiatives like edX, aim to do exactly the same thing that traditional courses have done—transfer course content from expert to student—only to do so massively more cheaply and on a much larger scale.

This is why, instead of de-institutionalizing education or making learning less hierarchical, we see some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world treating the MOOC as a lifeline in troubled economic waters, leveraging the figure of the “super-professor” to maintain their position of excellence atop the educational field and even to create new hierarchical arrangements among universities. These MOOCs are just a new way of maintaining the status quo, of re-institutionalizing higher education in an era of budget cuts, sky-rocketing tuition, and unemployed college graduates burdened by student debt. If the MOOC began in the classroom as an experimental pedagogy, it has swiftly morphed into a process driven from the top down, imposed on faculty by university administrators or even imposed on administrators by university boards of trustees and regents.

From within academia, the MOOC phenomenon is all about dollars and cents, about doing more of the same with less funding. And while MOOC boosters like to deride the “sage on the stage” model of education delivery—as if crowded lecture halls are literally the only kind of classroom there is—most of the actually existing MOOCs being marketed are not much more than a massive and online version of that very same “sage on a stage” model. And what could be more hierarchical than a high-prestige university like Harvard lecturing to less prestigious institutions?


I’ve titled this article “The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform” because I had to call it something; I couldn’t just say that the MOOCification of Higher Education is a Terrible No Good Very Bad Thing, although I think you have a sense of what I think about it. But MOOCs really are more like an end of something than a beginning. Instead of a transition between old and new, they represent the end of a process of constant change that has defined higher education for as long as it has existed. At the micro level, MOOCs are cheap because you record them once and then reuse them. They don’t grow and evolve, and they don’t require the hiring of academic faculty, whose intellectual lives keep intellectual inquiry moving forward. This is what makes them cheap, but it’s also what will make them solidify hierarchy by placing a pantheon of academic superstars at the center of pedagogical practice, reifying knowledge into a commodity that, because it has value, cannot be allowed to change. If academic life is anything, it’s a devotion to endless process: the scientific method tells you how to take the next step, not where to stop. MOOCs are structurally devoted to pinning knowledge down like a butterfly, putting it on file, putting a price on it, and floating it on the market.

MOOCs also represent the end of reform at the macro level. The University of California, for example, is a profoundly recent creation. It was basically a two-campus university until the 1950s; today, there are eleven campuses. The same is true of the California State University (CSU) system and the California Community College system. Between 1957 and 1965, California established eight new CSU campuses—out of an eventual twenty-three—while more than half its present complement of 112 community colleges was built in the period between 1957 and 1978. California’s public university system is, in many ways, the biggest and best expression of a moment in time when futurity was incredibly important and possible. It represented a massive investment of public funds in the state’s collective future. The 1960 Donahoe Act, better known as the Master Plan for Higher Education, was a complex piece of legislation, but at its heart was, quite simply, a blanket commitment from the state to educate all the California students who wanted an education. And as society grew, the university was to grow with it, adapting to changing needs by staying in a permanent state of reformulation.

Even though California State Senate Bill 520 begins by citing the Master Plan, this piece of legislation represents a refusal of futurity: because the future is now, there is nothing to plan for. The only reality is the economic reality that a funding shortfall must be dealt with. And instead of solving this problem, SB520 seeks to institutionalize it, to render it permanent. We solve the problem of frustrating ambitions by foreswearing ambition, by refusing to have desires that can be frustrated.


Brooks, D. 2012. “The Campus Tsunami.” New York Times, May 3.

Department of Philosophy, San Jose State University. 2013, “An Open Letter to Professor Michael Sandel from the Philosophy Department at San Jose State U.” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 2.

Friedman, T. L. 2013. “The Professors’ Big Stage.” New York Times, March 5. 2013/03/06/opinion/friedman-the-professors-big

Inside Higher Ed. 2013. The MOOC Moment: A Selection of Inside Higher Ed Articles and Essays on Massive Open Online Courses. Washington, DC: Inside Higher Ed.

Lewin, T. 2013. “California Bill Seeks Campus Credit for Online Study” New York Times, March 12.

Meyer, R. 2012. “What It’s Like to Teach a MOOC (and What the Heck’s a MOOC?).” The Atlantic, July 18.

Pappano, L. 2012. “The Year of the MOOC.” New York Times, November 2.

Aaron Bady is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. This article was adapted from the author’s remarks at “MOOCs and For Profit Universities: A Closer Look,” a roundtable discussion and event sponsored by the University of California–Irvine Humanities Collective, May 2013.

To respond to this article, e-mail, with the author’s name on the subject line.

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