Assessing the Threats MOOCs Pose to South African Higher Education
MOOCs have seen rapid growth in past few years, especially in the developed countries. This massive open educational resource called the MOOC, has somewhat increased participation in higher education through platforms such as Coursera, Edx and Udacity. The majority of the MOOCs in these platforms have been largely xMOOCs. xMOOCs are MOOCs that are professor lead, and are more or less an extension of the traditional online courses being provided without controlled prerequisites, for free or at relatively affordable prices. A number of these freely accessible MOOCs include a recording of the proffesor’s or expert’s lecture coupled with learning material and activities.
By providing these MOOCs openly, it means that the developing world internet users can also access these courses. Because of this element of free access, Prof. Adam Habib and Christine Woods identified some threats that MOOCs pose here in South Africa and Africa at large. They highlight that, already there are corners in the developing and developed world, in which MOOCs are viewed as having a hidden Western Ivy League universities agenda, i.e. cynicism. This threat is limiting those individuals, organisations and countries (especially in the developing world) from creatively engaging in the MOOCs arena, thus resulting in low uptake of these valuable open education resources. The low uptake phenomena within the developing world is further exacerbated by the lack of technological infrastructure, and inadequate internet connectivity. The other threat for South African higher education is the ongoing debate between the pro-MOOCs and the anti-MOOCs communities. The debate has limited progressive engagement around MOOCs and further limiting the amount of research about MOOCs pedagogical implications and applications.
Analysing the views of educational leaders, namely Prof Habib and Christine Woods, it is clear that there is generally no clear understanding amongst tertiary institution leaders, of what MOOCs are here for. Furthermore, the leaders are simply reacting to the evangelical voices who praise MOOCs at any given opportunity without explaining them wholesomely as pioneers like Dave Cormier and Steve Wheeler have done. Essentially MOOCs cannot be judged using the same criteria as the current South African education systems. MOOCs are not here to replace or challenge, therefore this view of seeing MOOCs as an alternative to classroom learning poses a threat in that it limits us from exploiting the potential benefits.
There is also a fear of MOOCs resulting in increased domination by the world’s top universities. This view again is limiting in that it shifts attention from the original purpose of MOOCs i.e. shifting from a learning focus to the geopolitics of education. The local pundits suggest MOOCs will weaken local university standings, but I say that we need to strategically take advantage of the MOOCs emergence, contribute to and develop MOOCs that are applicable in our context and adapt to the rapid changing technological environment. It is also important that MOOC researchers clearly unpack the different types/categories of MOOCs in order for educational leaders to understand their purpose.
Abib & Wods MOOCs – Panacea or benevolent curse?
Cormier What is a MOOC?
Mphaphuli Reactions to MOOCs in Higher Education