Open Access and MOOCs

Konrad M. Lawson
Lecturer in Modern History
University of St Andrews

2013.11.19 Max Weber Programme 8th Academic Careers Observatory Conference
European University Institute - Florence, Italy

This brief 15 minute presentation provides an overview of the main categories of critique that have emerged against two movements in higher education and research which both began as ways to strengthen academic communities and the student learning experience: open access and the general category of online education known as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). They have both increasingly been seen as either a universal solution or an ominous threat. As a specific and pragmatic way forward, I argue for the intersection of the two. I propose that faculty and students move to support modularity, decentralisation, and "libre" access to the "full stack," that is, a genuine openness at every layer of the MOOC platform and their courses both as a way, perhaps ironically, to retain greater control over the process, and to realise some of the initial goals that have long motivated educators to innovate in the field of open online education.


  1. From Scholars to Institutions, from Advocacy to Concerns in the OA and MOOC Movements
  2. The MOOC Landscape, late 2013
  3. MOOCs: Four Categories of Critique
  4. Open Education Advocacy before the xMOOC
  5. Open Education Resources and bringing Libre to "the Full Stack"

This outline, the text as delivered, and presentation slides will be made available at:

Full repository history at:

Some online pieces on the debates surrounding the MOOC movement to encourage discussion. As with the talk, these are entirely from the US side of the debate:

Third Generation Distance Learning and Computer Conferencing by Søren Nipper (1989)

An overview of distance education from the late 1980s with early suggestions of some of the weaknesses and challenges of "computer conferencing" for education.

An Open Letter to Professor Michael Sandel From the Philosophy Department at San José State University (April 2013)

An example of the pushback from departments against MOOCs. In this case, the use of Michael Sandel's Justice course, available on edX.

The MOOC Revolution: A Sketchy Deal for Higher Education by Geoff Shullenberger (February, 2013)

A article representative of the critique of MOOCs primarily from the perspective of its shift of power further towards elite universities, content aggregators, and private education institutions.

MOOCs, Robots, and the Secret of Life by Kevin Carey (June 2013)

A response to some MOOC critics with a specific example of the type of course that can function well in terms of pedagogy.

Five Myths about MOOCs by James G. Mazoue (October, 2013)

A response to MOOC critics at Educause from a director of online education at Wayne State University which has, in turn, generated a significant wave of responses.

The Year of the MOOC by Audrey Watters (December 2012)

If 2013 has been coined the "year of the anti-MOOC" it ignores the fact that 2012, the New York Times dubbed "year of the MOOC" was already host to debates on the majority of the issues that have come to concern educators. In this annotated link collection, Audrey Watters, who has been following MOOCs closely at "Hack Education", has assembled many of the online pieces from last year

George Siemens
"MOOCs: A supply-side answer to decades of change in demand-side learning needs" "MOOCs: The billion $$ solution to a problem we haven't identified yet"

George Siemens, together with Dave Cormier and Stephen Downes is one three figures who have been particularly influential as figures both active in the longer evolution of online education with well-formed ideas on how to make it work, and deeply engaged with the ongoing critiques of MOOCs. Siemens has been part of the "MOOC Research Initiative" designed to look comparatively at their efficacy in more depth, and known for developing "Connective Knowledge" or "Connectivism" theories of education.