A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the use of MOOCs contains the following fascinating interview:
Chandrakant Panse, a professor of microbiology at MassBay (Community College) and president of the union chapter there, does not think MOOCs will make local faculty members obsolete. But Mr. Panse does think an edX certificate, acknowledging the completion of an MIT course, is worth more to students than three credits at a community college. And that could pose a threat to academic freedom in the future.
"The MIT certificate has a lot more value in the marketplace than three course credits at MassBay—absolutely," Mr. Panse says. In the context of a student's job search, says the professor, an edX certificate "is going to matter tremendously more than saying I have three credits at MassBay for doing a programming course."
Considering the possibility that edX courses will become part of the curriculum at MassBay, Mr. Panse believes that students will want the opportunity to earn edX certificates in addition to credit toward their MassBay degrees. That demand could prompt administrators to require that MassBay professors hew closely to the curriculum prescribed by the MIT professors.
These comments describe with remarkably clarity one of the key issues facing many institutions with lesser brand value as they struggle with the question of how to use MOOCs. There is significant potential of conflict between the freedom of the faculty at the institution to define course material, and the value to the student of a certificate of completion of a MOOC course from a high brand university or faculty member. This conflict is likely to raise fundamental questions about the role and purpose of the instititution itself, and about the concept of academic freedom as it is often defined and applied to teaching.
One can only hope that these weighty questions will be addressed with the primary goal of ensuring that students end up with the best possible education, and are well positioned to find employment in this changing world. Unfortunately, most of the push-back about using MOOCs so far has been about preserving academic freedom in teaching, and not about benefits to students. Perhaps that will change with time.