The faculty of Amherst College have voted to reject a proposal to join edX in providing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
Professors across the United States can appreciate this rare instance of faculty empowerment that affirms the principle of faculty governance at Amherst College.
According to Inside Higher Ed, “Amherst President Carolyn (Biddy) Martin left the final decision about the deal in the hands of her faculty. She expressed public support for working with edX but said she saw risks either way. After months of deliberation on campus, the faculty met Tuesday night to decide if Amherst should join edX. The administration said it would respect the faculty vote. The faculty voted on a substitute motion offered by an opponent of the edX deal that concluded Amherst should chart its own course rather than join edX. Seventy faculty members then voted to formally approve that motion, 41 voted against and five abstained.”
It is refreshing to see a College President who is willing to empower faculty members to study a problem seriously and then vote on college policy.
The Amherst faculty examined edX’s proposal and wrote a report on their findings. Inside Higher Ed indicates that faculty members “expressed broader concerns about the direction in which edX and others like it are taking higher education.” In particular, professors pointed out that “edX wants to offer its users completion certificates bearing Amherst’s name. This worried some faculty, as well as Martin.”
This highlights one of the main potential threats of MOOCs for higher education in the United States: that new MOOC-providing companies will appropriate university’s credentials and use them to pass off MOOC courses as equivalent to face-to-face education in on-campus courses.
MOOCs do not seem particularly relevant for humanities disciplines, many of which rely on classroom discussion and interactive learning, rather than on a lecture-driven format.
Inside Higher Ed reports on this story.