I try to confine my MOOC commentary to Twitter and Facebook, but this seemed important enough to break radio silence.

The philosophy department at San Jose State University has written an open letter to one of their peers at Harvard, Michael Sandel, about his MOOC on social justice. The letter outlines the faculty’s objections to MOOCs offered as university credit. They emphasize that they are not opposed to technology in the classroom, which is an important point. From my readings, many pro-MOOCers like to label anti-MOOCers as Luddites fearful of technological change, when the opposite is often true.

The letter also touches on other arguments, such as the elitism of only having select universities with the available resources offering MOOCS for credit and the obvious benefits of having students and professors interacting in person. These are all points made elsewhere, and there are certainly more that one could add. (For those arguments and continual updates on the evolution of the MOOC debate, Jonathan Rees’ blog More or Less Bunk is essential reading.)

What struck me about this letter, however, was this warning:

[T]he thought of the exact same social justice course being taught in various philosophy departments across the country is downright scary – something out of a dystopian novel. . . . Diversity in schools of thought and plurality of points of view are at the heart of liberal education.

Despite reading a few dystopian novels lately, what resonated with me was the last sentence. I’m a firm believer in the liberal arts education. I’m a firm believer that a liberal arts education requires different beliefs, perspectives, modes of interpretation and methodology, etc. The liberal arts environment isn’t a place to participate in intellectual  gymnastics just for fun, although that happens. It is a place where you discover who you are and what you believe. It is the place, as I’ve written before, where you engage in debate and discussion and disagreement, all of which helps you grow intellectually, emotionally, and ethically.

If you can do that by watching a video, more power to you. Just don’t ask (or force) me to do it.

One thought on “An Open Letter on MOOCs and Social Justice

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