MOOCs: Integrity, Implications and Global Impact - Unanswered Questions

MOOC is sweeping the academic landscape in unprecedented ways.  In its stride, it has spread over to the four corners of the world in a matter of months. Surveys indicate sizable participation of people, almost entirely as students, from the stressed side of the digital and economic divide.  The global impact is still to be ascertained.  Some questions, however, can be raised at this stage; from delivery and governance of MOOC to its social, economical industrial and cultural impacts.  Below I have listed some of these questions, in no particular order.

  1. How to make sure that the students’ completed assignments and home-works are genuine?  In other words, how to guarantee that the work is original, without unethical help?
  2. How to ascertain that while taking quizzes and writing exams, students have not used unfair means?
  3. Can two students be regarded as equals, when one is taking MOOC and the other is participating in a real, physical class room face to face with the professor?
  4. Are the universities offering MOOC ready to accept the credits of a MOOC student in their own brick and mortar academic ecosystems?
  5. University education is much more than performing the rituals of home-works, assignments, quizzes and exams.  It is about human interactions, team-work, discussions, debates, arguments, sharing the pains and agonies and enjoying the shared triumphs.  Can MOOC deliver it all?  How?
  6. Are the industries ready to accept the output of the MOOC process? 
  7. If yes, will the earning capacities of a MOOC and a non-MOOC graduate be equal?
  8. In terms of employability, how a MOOC graduate will match the university experience of a brick and mortar graduate?
  9. How the dearth of physical human interaction in MOOC experience will influence the industry and the society at large?
  10. What will happen to the brick and mortar universities themselves?  With a handful of celebrity professors teaching say, CS 101, the world over,  how the remaining thousands of professors who presently teach the same introductory course, will fit in the academic realm?  As glorified TAs?
  11. Will the wide-spread adoption of MOOC result in further division of society?  With only haves having full access to elite schools and have nots going through the more affordable MOOC mushrooming as a part of the giant machinery called economy and industry? The elite school producing fully developed industry and thought leaders with MOOC graduates ready to serve the (thought) masters?
  12. With educated and trained work-force cheaply available throughout the world, courtesy MOOC, how many jobs are going to be outsourced? The impact will probably be more pronounced in the IT domain.  What after shocks the domestic USA market will experience? 
  13. In subjective areas, like history, will there be any weaker voice remaining?  Will 1857 be remembered as the year of Indian mutiny/rebellion or as the year of war of independence of India?  How we will recall Columbus?  A pilgrim or a plunderer who pillaged and racially cleansed an entire continent?
  14. The industrial revolution changed the world of production, trade and commerce for ever.  Through education we can change minds for ever; for good or for bad.  MOOC gives too much power to too few individuals-is it a course of unparalleled risks that the mankind is taking?
  15. On the technical front, will MOOC act as a catalyst to develop new software for auto grading, proctoring, and identity establishment?  How these developments will effect the traditional university cultures? How the present faculty and staff will be effected? How will they take it? 
  16. In the developing world, MOOC will probably be taken as a breath of fresh air. Language challenges aside, how the universities and higher learning institutes will get effected there?  Will they use it to supplement their in-class teaching, as a rich addition to their flipped class room model, or will they keep on enjoying their deep slumber?  
  17. Will MOOC be able to establish universal portability of credits earned and/or degrees granted?  How Washington Accord, Sydney Accord and Dublin Accord, etc. will accommodate MOOC graduates? 
  18. What roles the engineering/higher education bodies and accrediting agencies like ABET, Engineering Councils, etc. will play with regards to MOOC’s potentials for credit transfer and degree portability?  
  19. Will some of the countries/economies fearing “hostile take over” of their higher education, move their “protectionism” into high gears thereby stymying the spread of MOOC?  
  20. With zero or little cost coupled with the charms of big schools/ renowned professors, MOOC is expected to become even more popular with time among the global student body.  With industry and education bodies acceptance, will learned professors/academicians be performing the last rites for the universities as we know them now? 

Answers to these questions are not clear; the MOOC phenomenon is too recent to fathom its deep and long term impacts.  One statement, however, can be made without much reservations: MOOC has the potential to single handedly disrupt the academic landscape in a few years the way that all other influencers combined together have not done over the past few centuries.