“Imagine you’re at South Dakota State,” [Professor Peter J. Burgard] said, “and they’re cash-strapped, and they say, ‘Oh! There are these HarvardX courses. We’ll hire an adjunct for three thousand dollars a semester, and we’ll have the students watch this TV show.’ Their faculty is going to dwindle very quickly. Eventually, that dwindling is going to make it to larger and less poverty-stricken universities and colleges. The fewer positions are out there, the fewer Ph.D.s get hired. The fewer Ph.D.s that get hired—well, you can see where it goes. It will probably hurt less prestigious graduate schools first, but eventually it will make it to the top graduate schools. . . . If you have a smaller graduate program, you can be assured the deans will say, ‘First of all, half of our undergraduates are taking moocs. Second, you don’t have as many graduate students. You don’t need as many professors in your department of English, or your department of history, or your department of anthropology, or whatever.’
We’re not sure whether things will play out exactly as this professor describes, but higher ed may very well be headed in this general direction: a few superstar professors dominating the video lecture field, leaving less room for the middle-tier of professors that fill most college faculties. This could be a painful transition for many currently in academia, but it’s important to keep in mind that the core business of the vast majority of American schools is to educate students, not to provide work for PhD holders.And anyway, as the article goes on to point out, higher education is already adapting in interesting ways:
I asked Michael Smith, the Harvard dean, whether he worried about the effects of MOOCs on the academic job market. “I think oftentimes this question is oversimplified,” he said. “We’re working very closely with our graduate school and our graduate students to think about how they can be involved in this process.” Job offers today, he said, will necessarily “be different from the ones I saw when I finished up graduate school.” Some Ph.D. students are being trained in MOOC production as “HarvardX fellows.” […]“I have a hard time seeing how this makes an already dire situation for the humanities worse,” Stephen Squibb, a graduate student in English, said.
This is only a small taste of what the article has to offer, including a fascinating description of some of the challenges of putting together successful MOOCs in the humanities. Read the whole thing. It’s very much worth your time.