If you have read my previous rants, you know how I feel about MOOCs.  Let’s just say I think they have a limited use – like a trailer hitch on a Porsche 911. MOOCs have a few redeeming qualities, one of which is the rise of the faculty rock star. Faculty can publish a MOOC and literally have hundreds of thousands of students sign up. Never before has this been possible and never has the sage on stage Socratic model been more threatened. This new approach has Ivy League and other top tier schools clamoring for attention, acting like teen age girls at a Justin Bieber concert.

RStar

Thanks to YouTube and Facebook, the Internet has launched many a rock star.  Some have genuine talent but simply did not have access to traditional modalities and avenues. Many, if not most, do not have any talent other than the ability to use a webcam to capture some painful dance or off-key singing. Just like gawking as you drive by a fender-bender on the highway, it is nearly impossible not to indulge in a little virtual rubber-necking.  Just as these talentless overnight Internet stars quickly crash and burn, returning to a life of anonymity living in their parent’s basement, so, metaphorically, will these MOOC professors who truly lack talent.

Talent is the touchstone that creates real rock stars. Check out Bev Evans from England who has been downloaded almost 3 million times. Would you rather take “Introduction to Film” from Professor Marginal discussing the cultural impact of the movie “Chariots of Fire” or from Lord David Puttnam through the Open University? In case you don’t recognize the name, Lord Puttnam was the producer.  So how do we find the real academic rock stars performing in these new delivery modalities? I assert that it will no longer be the accrediting bodies or the faculty senate that identify and launch quality faculty but the free market, both students and industry.

I read that CUNY adjuncts, in order to cast a light on the plight of the “slave of higher education,” are not allowing students to call them “Professor.” What an old and outdated, not to mention unprofessional, approach to solving a problem. These luddites might as well don bell-bottom dungarees, organize a sit-in and preach symbolism over substance.  Most adjuncts I know have full time jobs and teach because they love it, not for the money. Make no mistake, adjuncts can (and the good ones do) make “bank” teaching both in-seat and online.  The group that should be shaking in their shoes is the full-time faculty, many of whom are teaching lighter loads and demanding bigger and better perks.  They should be in arms, not because of the quality of teaching from adjuncts (which is a common argument), but because using adjuncts is financially more efficient and that kind of effective model is what institutional leaders like. I anticipate the use of adjuncts will continue to grow.

For those adjuncts wanting to break the “slave” mold, the changing dynamic of higher education will provide opportunities, like MOOCs, to engage with thousands of students and to create new ways of teaching. But for those holding on to the old sage on stage model, troubles are only starting to mount. Perhaps an even larger concern is the challenge to professors in traditional environments to remain the unquestioned expert.  Any student with internet access can (and should) leverage material from scholars living anywhere in the world via the virtual cornucopia that is the world wide web and use that information to challenge the status quo. This is a bold new day for the true rock star faculty to return status to the title of Professor and honor a profession that is respected and revered, regardless of being contracted or tenured.

Share your thoughts with me below. I look forward to hearing from you.

– Mark

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