On August 3rd, I participated in a Twitter discussion with Hybrid Pedagogy and David Stavens of Udacity. I posed a question that seemed to create a bit of a stir. “Has anyone thought of embedding librarians into MOOCs?” Mr. Stavens replied that all of Udacity’s classes had a professional teaching team supporting them. I asked if a librarian was working with the instructor as a collaborator in teaching the class. I asked if classes had access to scholarly databases for research. The lack of a direct affirmation leads me to assume the answer is no. I find it hard to believe that in all of the MOOC furor no one is considering a crucial part of education: the research component, the librarian component.
I must admit, I’ve never completed a MOOC. I have only lurked a couple, never to return. There appear to be writing assignments involved as a means of assessment. And “peers” are assessing each other’s work? Are you kidding me? Does some random peer grading my blog know anything about prose and composition? What if they’re not from my country? From whom are the references coming? Are they scholarly? Peer-reviewed? Are students citing their sources? Is anyone checking for plagiarism? Are they writing according to an established writing style? Do MOOCs care? Or are MOOCs so limited they can’t afford to care about serious scholarship?
I recently graduated with a Master of Library and Information Science degree. My entire program was administered online. My work was submitted to plagiarism tools for detection. My work was scrutinized by faculty for depth of content and adherence to APA. I had synchronous meetings via web conferencing software. All of these technologies were crucial in ensuring that the standards of my education were met. I can’t imagine a serious online offering without them.
I don’t believe these massive online course offerings will never equate to legitimate education without serious modification. I noted that Cathy Davidson posed a question in her blog, asking where are the students in the MOOC equation? I ask, where are the librarians? Where are the serious research components that allow for critical thinking, higher-level educational outcomes? Do Harvard and Berkley and Penn all of the others seriously believe MOOCs replicate classroom education or even accredited online education? I can’t believe they do. I can’t believe we as educators are even considering the question. Have we forgotten what education actually entails? I can't help but wonder if MOOCs are the greatest marketing technique in higher education since naming a building after a donor. Where are the librarians???