I am grateful to MOOCs and to the specter of online courses for something: they have made me grateful for the “residential instruction” classes I teach and the embodied human students who enroll in them. I’ve had a particularly great group of students in both classes this term, and I’ve had fun writing new lectures and inventing new writing assignments for them. I think we’ve had some fascinating conversations, too, about the new books we’ve read together.
I will admit that those embodied students are sometimes problematic. A few of them have gotten pregnant this term–both of them happily so, fortunately. One of them has unhappily suffered from complications from a brain surgery and a botched root canal. Others of them have been called to jury duty, to custody hearings, or to funerals for their formerly embodied family members. One even served as a delegate to the Democratic National convention. Perhaps I delude myself in thinking that in coping with our mutual embodiment together as we read about life in North America in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, that we can learn something about the joys and frustrations of both the life of the mind and the life of the body.
But, universities are not just places where students can learn. Universities are also generators of new knowledge, a fact that is entirely overlooked by the desire to automate teaching and turn it over to Professor Pushbutton. I think it is important to continue to resist the online migration, not just for the benefit of our students and the dignity of our profession, such as it is, but also in defense of the idea of the university. We are not university educators unless we are continuously engaged in reading and writing new scholarship.
Others may be eager to use their students as guinea pigs for the development and exportation of American community college-style education to China, India, and the Middle East at Ivy League prices. I know the administrators at my uni are all for it. As for me? Call me Bartleby. I prefer not to.