My University of Wisconsin colleague Kris Olds has been writing about the international dimensions of massively open online courses (MOOCs). A recent entry ("Memo to Trustees re: Thomas Friedmans Revolution Hits the Universities") reflects on an op-ed by the NY Times columnist. Olds discusses the hope behind MOOCs that they will bring education to the world, including massive numbers who cannot afford traditional college education, and puts this claim into the current economic context:
We are now in a new (normalized) normal, at least in the US, where austerity is accepted and indeed viewed positively for it can be perceived as a mechanism to restructure higher education systems and institutions. In short, we are arguably (as noted by Dean Martin McQuillan in an article in Times Higher Education magazine) not in a state of crisis as crisis infers a cyclical dimension to the challenges facing the financing of higher ed. Austerity (the strategic and systematic reduction of state-financing levels), in combination with the contradictory/ironic desire to ramp up state governance power (including about online education and associated credentialing), is the new normal and this is what Friedman, amidst all his hype about MOOCs and online education, utterly fails to flag.
His earlier entries on localization of MOOCs in a global context are well worth reading, including an entry on the new effort by the UK's Open University ("Are MOOCs becoming mechanisms for international competition in global higher ed?"), in which Olds lists the U.S.-heavy list of universities that have thus far entered the MOOC arena.