Open Courses have arrived, with thousands joining in from all over the world, and that does not make everyone happy. Depending on who one speaks to, it is described as anything between a fad, soon to disappear into irrelevance, and a game-changer, something that will soon render our great universities useless: Both of these views are indeed extreme, and it is fair to assume that the truth is somewhere in the middle. However, the extremities of these positions indicate that the advent of open courses generate strong passion and heated arguments, and surely its enemies can match its adherents, if not by number, but certainly by strength.
Open Courses are indeed upending an industry, though it is not higher education and the universities. If anything, I shall argue, Open Courses are saving the universities and helping them to re-establish themselves with a more democratic credential and connect with a large number of people; the universities are regaining, through these courses, a sort of political legitimacy that they lost somewhere along the way. And, besides, Open Courses are helping to resurrect knowledge, rather than mere credentials or access to a privileged group, as the thing that the universities deliver: This will not just save the universities from the diploma mill challenges, but from itself.
However, not everyone is happy and textbook publishers are among them. Open courses is Internet delivered: This is what they feared will happen. Open courses transform the free but chaotic knowledge of Internet into streamlined, credentialed, but still free, chunks, fusing multiple medium and organized in an easily recognizable structure. This is what textbooks used to do, and they were hoping that Kindle and the like will help preserve them that privilege for longer. Open Courses is a big fly in that ointment.
But there is an even bigger problem and it is this - Open Courses will definitively shift the power from content to community in Higher Learning. The second coming of knowledge is firmly associated with free connections, inquiry and conversations, something that textbooks implicitly discourage. Textbooks, for all they stand for, are the industrial age contraptions that dominated learning for most of last fifty years; Open courses bring a much needed, paradigm shifting update.
In summary, then, Open Courses are eating the publishers' lunch, and that's where the resentment comes from. These masters of the learning universe already had enough trouble with the culture of Internet, and Open Courses represent everything they feared: the communities, the conversations and the knowledge commons. This isn't a battle which is over yet, but we may just be witnessing a passing of an age.
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