In late July, Kris Olds wrote a piece for Inside Higher Ed’s Blog U: Global Higher Ed titled “Why No MOOCs on Gaza?” [The complete article is available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/globalhighered/why-no-moocs-gaza]
Rightly recognizing that the MOOC format would be perfectly suited to providing succinct overviews of the conflicts in the world’s hotspots, Olds searched sites of the half-dozen most prominent MOOC providers, a process that she describes in detail in order to illustrate that on most sites identifying the courses by topic is counterintuitively difficult. Initially she searched for courses on the conflict in Gaza. But when that search yielded no results, she looked for courses on the comparable, ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq. But none of these searches produced any results.
Olds then reflects on the implications of the seemingly complete lack of MOOCs on these regions in conflict:
“These are not insignificant places and conflicts. And to be sure handling vigorous student participation would require great planning and focus. But there is, arguably, a real need for public service to enhance deep learning on complex events versus generic or broad disciplinary takes (e.g., international relations). I suspect a lot of people (alumni included!) would benefit from engaging with a well planned and executed MOOC on the history and politics of Gaza & Israel right now.
“Are universities with MOOC initiatives just searching for low-hanging fruit (i.e. existing broad undergraduate courses that can be morphed into MOOCs)? Are universities and professors just risk averse regarding potentially controversial ‘open online’ course topics? Are MOOCs the equivalent of taste-testers (at food festivals) for university courses and programs, a charge I’ve often heard directed at one MOOC platform. Perhaps the international collaborative potential of MOOC platforms has not been recognized, yet, and relevant professors and researchers in various countries/universities/think tanks have not yet worked together to create the ideal MOOCs on these places and associated conflicts?”
Anyone who has been following the Salaita case knows that the answer to why there are no MOOCs on these politically divisive topics is much simpler: people are afraid to make them because no matter how “objective” or “nonpartisan” one might try to be, developing such a course would be like trying to sprint across a minefield.
And it ultimately would not matter who was doing the sprinting—a fat late-middle-aged guy like me who seems almost to have forgotten how to run or a track-and-field star such as Usain Bolt. The mine doesn’t know or care how comically or how beautifully you’re running when your foot lands on it.
Indeed, the lack of MOOCs on these divisive conflicts is very consistent with the research reported in the articles listed in my post on using the Salaita case in our classrooms because most of that research shows that social media is actually making most people less willing to engage in political discussions. So Salaita is in a very real sense being stigmatized not just for the opinions that he has expressed but for the fact that he has expressed them at all.