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January 28, 2013 - 8:45pm



Everybody - but everybody - is over the moon about MOOCs.  The latest thing is Tom Friedman and fellow biggies at Davos hyperventilating about them. 

UD has a MOOC, on poetry, and although it's relatively small (2,000 rather than 200 billion students), it has earned her a modest acclaim.  She is currently preparing a new MOOC, on the novels of Don DeLillo.

What's the next step for MOOCs and universities?  How else - beyond basic pedagogy - might they be used?

This article, in Nature, about the booming university trade in expert networks, got UD thinking.  Perennial naysayers like Arthur Caplan complain that our med school colleagues who get paid tens of thousands of dollars a year by venture capitalists just for chatting with them over a spot of tea about where their drug research is going are doing something wrong.

“The only reason anybody wants to talk to you from a financial company is for insider information,” says Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “That’s the start of the story and that’s the end of the story.”

I mean, admittedly, yes, there's Sidney Gilman.

Sidney Gilman, a neurologist then at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor — admitted to tipping off a hedge-fund manager about clinical-trial data before they were made public. The result: US$276 million in illicit gains for the hedge fund, the largest insider-trading case the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has ever handled.

Fine, fine.  Insider trading - we can quibble about insider trading until Martha Stewart's cows come home!  A lot of people will tell you there's absolutely nothing wrong with insider trading.  The laws are really a sort of restraint of trade.  Because they're ridiculous, I think we can anticipate their repeal.

Meanwhile, MOOC technology has something to offer here.  Alongside their research activity, concurrent with it, med school professors doing cutting-edge pharma work can now prepare a series of - highly secure! - Insider MOOCs.  These would be presentations - for hedge fund eyes only - highlighting the bankable successes and failures of their research as they happen, in real time.  No more awkward - and easily surveilled - meetings over tea, cultivation of personal relationships, blahblah.  Too much lead time, too little security.  Look what happened to Gilman.  And he's not the only one.  More and more professors are getting bagged by the SEC.  It's what you call a trend. 

Yes, I know that the weak link in this chain is the security of your MOOC videos.  I readily admit that I don't know much about... what ...  encryption?  ...  The ways in which your Insider MOOC would remain truly inside... But I can't believe there isn't a way to make them uncrackable by outsiders.

Insider MOOCs would go both ways, of course.  Med school professors would essentially sit very still and do nothing until they received research directives by way of MOOCs from the hedgies.  The hedgies would tell them what drugs they're thinking of investing in, and then the med school professors would go to work on those drugs, and then the professors would prepare their MOOCs about the drugs for the hedgies, and then the hedgies would respond once again with MOOCs asking for clarification, suggesting different research directions, etc.

I think this is what you call healthy university/industry interaction.  Made yet healthier - more effective, more rational - by the marvelous new technology of the MOOC.



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