Bob Meister, professor of social sciences and political thought at the University of California Santa Cruz, puts forward the idea in an open letter to Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller that criticises the Mooc platform.
“I would like to propose a new online course for you to make freely available through the Coursera platform. Its title is: ‘The Implications of Coursera’s For-Profit Business Model for Global Public Education,’” he says.
The letter contains a diatribe against the organisation, criticising its funding from venture capitalists, the quality of its courses, and questioning its stated aim of increasing access to higher education.
“As the course progresses, my more diligent students will come to see…that reducing income gaps through education is not the main problem that Coursera and other Massive Open Online Course (Mooc) providers are trying to solve in their pitch to investors,” he writes.
“That problem is, rather, how and when to price the content that you are now giving away in your current (pre-public offering) phase of development.”
Professor Meister would also use his Mooc to encourage students to think carefully about the type of information to which they allow Coursera access.
He says that students in the class will learn that the data they freely provide to the company could then be used by Coursera to help it make money in the future.
The possibilities for renting this information back to its students are “endless”, he writes, “not to mention the added possibility of developing other markets for the user-assessment information that Coursera will own”.
Professor Koller told Times Higher Education she was unsurprised that the Mooc model of “providing learners everywhere free access to a great education” had brought out “skeptics and critics”.
“Indeed, some caution is appropriate whenever the world changes this quickly,” she said.
“I am happy to respond to concrete criticism of our actions or words, but Mr Meister’s letter criticises the model not based on what Coursera has done, nor even on what we have said we would do in future, but on a speculative trajectory of his own.”