4/25/13

Against the Sunk Costs Argument for MOOC's and the Expansion of Online Education



There was a line in the book Alone Together by Sherry Turkle that encapsulated, roughly, what's at the heart of my concern about MOOC's, online, etc. 

"When we make a job rote, we are more open to having machines do it. But even when people do it, they and the people they serve feel like machines."

What this expresses to me is the fact that there is something very logical (developmentally "next step") about increasing the automated/distanced/impersonal components to our educational strategies. In other words, it's hard to argue against these components because we, ourselves, have made teaching more rote as we've created larger and larger classrooms. 

My resistance stems from the old adages "You can't derive an 'is' from an 'ought'" and "Two wrongs can't make a right." Just because we've moved education beyond further into the mass-production age doesn't make it right. Surely, there is a lot of water under the bridge--and we've built structures and systems (and technology career paths--and exploited adjunct teacher paths) premised on the mass-production approach.  But the mere fact that online/MOOC's helps us accomodate ourselves to some previous (and questionable) decisions--and indeed they help accelerate those decisions--does not constitute an argument for doing them. If they move us further in the wrong direction, then we have reason to question (even, resist) them. And, yes, doing that is an even heavier lift; but it is the right thing to do. And that's a good reason for doing something.

This is not a wholesale argument for or against any specific thing. Rather, it's against the frequently used argument that certain sunk costs commit us to further actions along those lines. My point is simple: the sunk costs argument is false and disreputable and should be discarded.

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