The philosophy department at San Jose State University is pushing back against the university's pioneering projects to test new online learning ventures .
A department-approved letter not only challenges hype around online learning but personally calls out a Harvard University professor who teaches a massive open online class for his alleged culpability in what the department calls perilous online learning efforts. The department's letter to Harvard's Michael Sandel follows a suggestion from San Jose State's administration that the department look at using Sandel's popular edX MOOC on justice.
"There is no pedagogical problem in our department that JusticeX solves," the letter to Sandel says, "nor do we have a shortage of faculty capable of teaching our equivalent course. We believe that long-term financial considerations motivate the call for massively open online courses (MOOCs) at public universities such as ours. Unfortunately, the move to MOOCs comes at great peril to our university. We regard such courses as a serious compromise of quality of education and, ironically for a social justice course, a case of social injustice."
San Jose State Provost Ellen Junn said the faculty had the option of using the online course to supplement their normal course material in the same way professors use textbooks. “Faculty have the complete control and responsibility for using or not using whatever material they want, whether it be a textbook or video,” she said.
San Jose State is using another edX course to "flip" one of its engineering courses and is so far seeing better pass rates, according to university faculty. Junn said the use of material from providers offering MOOCs does not mean the university classes are themselves MOOCs because they are not entirely online and they are not massive courses -- indeed, they have the same number of enrolled students as traditional un-flipped courses.
Sandel released a statement  saying he is only trying to make material available to the public and making clear that he does not believe online courses are a substitute for personal engagement.
"My goal is simply to make an educational resource freely available--a resource that faculty colleagues should be free to use in whole or in part, or not at all, as they see fit," he said. "The worry that the widespread use of online courses will damage departments in public universities facing budgetary pressures is a legitimate concern that deserves serious debate, at edX and throughout higher education. The last thing I want is for my online lectures to be used to undermine faculty colleagues at other institutions."
The San Jose State letter is the latest instance of professors looking at and rejecting attempts by officials at traditional universities to partner with a new batch of online course providers. Amherst College's faculty last month voted down a proposal to join edX . Last week, Duke University faculty members, frustrated with their administration and skeptical of the degrees to be awarded, forced the institution to back out of a deal with nine other universities and 2U to create a pool of for-credit online classes for undergraduates.