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Monday, November 4, 2013

Humanities Attracting the MOOC Crowd

It’s probably no surprise that computer science is the most popular subject offered by massive open online course provider Coursera with nearly 9.5 million people enrolled. Humanities, as a distant second, may come as more of a stunner.

Nearly four million people have taken humanities courses, according to information from the company. The numbers may be inflated somewhat because of the highly popular “Walking Dead” course, but they are still ahead of business and management (3.5 million), economics and finance (3.3 million) and information, tech, and design (2.4 million).

The fact that humanities are so popular as MOOCs and yet were basically ignored during a panel discussion featuring Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, last June caught the attention and ire of attendee, blogger, and UBC associate professor Jon Beasley-Murray. He wrote that the model for online learning is dominated by science and points a finger at the people responsible.

“The arts and humanities should have a vital role, critical and self-reflexive, that would complicate current discussion of technology in the classroom, and more broadly enhance our understanding of the university’s main challenges and possibilities in a global, wired world,” Beasley-Murray wrote. “But what we get instead is knee-jerk enthusiasm and self-defeating short-termism. This is not the fault of the sciences themselves—they should clearly and obviously be part of the conversation, too. It is, rather, the fault of an administration and senior management that has for some reason lost faith in its own mission and its own values, and in the people that it employs to think about and even question that mission and those values.”

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