[Humanist] 26.314 brave new world & its institutions

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Sep 18 07:11:12 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 314.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Daniel Allington <daniel.allington at open.ac.uk>            (61)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.303 brave new world & its institutions

  [2]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (27)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.313 brave new world & its institutions

  [3]   From:    Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>                        (25)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.313 brave new world & its institutions

        Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2012 10:20:40 +0100
        From: Daniel Allington <daniel.allington at open.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.303 brave new world & its institutions
        In-Reply-To: <20120914053230.BE4612918F2 at woodward.joyent.us>

On 14 Sep 2012, at 06:32, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
> Dear Willard,
> There has been quite a bit of conversation, both in the public press and on
> this list, about the validity of online education.  I think a great deal of
> the passion arises from a confusion of two functions of our schools:
> educating and credentialing.
> Eric
> ---
> Eric S. Rabkin
> www.umich.edu/~esrabkin  http://www.umich.edu/%7Eesrabkin
Dear Eric

With respect, I think that's a secondary issue. The current crop of MOOCs
represents the first, exploratory stage in the forthcoming globalisation of
the higher education industry: as your blog post ominously asks, 'There's no
cost or credit for the "students" yet, but could this point the way to the
"schools" of the future?'
The answer is clear: if university administrators did not think that it
could, then they would not be investing your time in this experiment.

While no-one should blame you or any other educator for taking part - who
wouldn't want to disseminate his or her ideas to 39,000 students across six
continents? - you must realise that some of those who lack that opportunity
will quite reasonably dread the probable outcome, not only because it is
likely to involve the loss of many of their jobs, but also because it can
only result in a dramatic reduction in diversity. At present, the world's
most powerful brands in higher education are overwhelmingly owned by
American and (to a lesser extent) British institutions, but with regard to
teaching (as opposed to research and the recipience of philanthropy) their
only ways of capitalising on this international dominance have been (a) to
charge astronomical fees to the children of the global elite and (b) to open
overseas campuses. Once it has been monetised, the MOOC model will free that
fortunate band of adventurers to compete in every market on the globe, with
the result that the international structure of higher education will
increasingly come to resemble that of the mass media. (For a related
argument, see

Again, I don't blame you. Given the chance, I would do the same thing myself
- and one could argue that, in my humble way, I already do: the partially
online course to which I've been contributing for the last four years
reached over a thousand students this spring (although they're mostly in the
nation state to which I pay taxes, so I suppose it isn't quite the same).
But the lack of any moral highground for me to take does not diminish my
awareness that the brave new educational world under construction by
Coursera and others will be an even more exploitative and elitist place than
the one that already exists. In the meantime, expect us to deploy whatever
arguments we can about validity or credentialing or anything else that comes
to mind: a drowning man will clutch at a straw, as they say.

Best regards


Dr Daniel AllingtonLecturer in English Language Studies and Applied Linguistics
Centre for Language and Communication
The Open University
+44 (0) 1908 332 914


The Open University is incorporated by Royal Charter (RC 000391), an exempt charity in England & Wales and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 038302).

        Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2012 11:58:23 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.313 brave new world & its institutions
        In-Reply-To: <20120917051219.4B36528F086 at woodward.joyent.us>

Whether or not it is a propos for students to collaborate or not on an exam
is a function of course goals, which determine assessment measures, which
in turn determine grades.  The issue here isn't "traditional restrictions
on interaction" vs. forward, global thinking about the goals of education.
That's rather off the point, as in the work world our students will both
have to collaborate and work on their own.  Course goals are what matter
here.  If I'm teaching a math course, I want to know if every individual
student can work out the equations on their own.

Jim R

Dear Willard,
> Apropos of online education, one of its stated goals is to foster
> collaboration. At the same time we are supposed to be distressed that
> Harvard undergraduates are "collaborating" on their final exams and are
> being threatened with expulsion for cheating. Somewhere we we will need to
> draw a line between demanding that students retain a certain quantum of
> information (at least until the exam is handed in) and educating them to
> function in a work environment that is increasingly requiring that they
> interact with a global community in a group endeavor. The humanities, with
> their minimal demand for factual information and their emphasis on
> comprehending and synthesizing, may be best positioned to lead a movement
> away from traditional restrictions on interaction during examinations and
> toward an environment more resembling the world in which students will
> spend their working lives.
> Joe Raben

        Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2012 21:14:02 -0700
        From: Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.313 brave new world & its institutions
        In-Reply-To: <20120917051219.4B36528F086 at woodward.joyent.us>

I have been puzzling for the last 24 hours about Prof. Rabkin's suggestion
that education and "credentialing," or is it "credentializing"? can be
taken separately. Vocational schools, law, medicine, engineering,
architecture, design perhaps? offer to teach schools, though all
professional organizations like that credential excellent, good, mediocre,
poor, and flunks into the world.  There is perhaps a Bell curve for all
people like that, and woe betide the clumsy engineer, and bad doctor, etc.,
I mean their clients or patients or operators of machines that maim.  One
is fortunate to know of a good car mechanic, in short.  Or airline pilot,
etc.Credentialing is not educating in the original and even modern sense.
 Educating  is otherwise.  Readers of Plato's SYMPOSIUM will recall that
each representative of a social skill, vocation, profession, etc., speaks
on the subject of Eros, but in the end they are each put to shame by
Socrates, who reveals their fundamental defects of thought and
understanding.  Nothing has changed.  Some lawyers can do well before a
supreme court, most would be, as they say, laughed out of court,
credentials notwithstanding.

Jascha Kessler

Jascha Kessler
Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
Telephone/Facsimile: 310.393.4648

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