Distributing Knowledge vs. Imposing Culture

Audrey Watters mentions in her article that in one of the biggest online classes so far, Andrew Ng’s class on machine learning, the majority of enrolled students was not from the U.S., which is to me a very interesting development as this seems to confirm that MOOCs are indeed a good way to give people around the world access to higher education which they could not afford otherwise. However, in a later section she briefly refers to an article on the problem that MOOCs can be seen as a form of cultural imperialism. This is probably less a problem for classes on engineering or science topics where a lot of the content is fairly undisputed but it is certainly questionable whether subjects such as world history where a variety of opinions and points of view exist should be taught to masses in exactly the same way. As at the moment the vast majority of MOOCs originates in the U.S. there is a danger that large audiences from around the world will hear as it is admittedly also now often the case only one opinion on controversial topics. What what would be new though, ┬áis that everybody would hear the same single opinion. That being said, I also think that MOOCs could be used in a way to avoid this problem, because as not only people from around the world can consume but also produce content, MOOCs would allow for example that both, a Japanese and an American professor talk about a conflict between the U.S. and Japan, which could give students from both countries new insights in a way that was never possible before. Thus it should be a goal to encourage more and more international universities to get involved in creating MOOCs in order to avoid this problem right from the start.

One Response to Distributing Knowledge vs. Imposing Culture

  1. Hi Sebastian,

    To me, the difference between subjects such as Science and History is not so much that Science is “undisputed,” but rather that the purpose of instruction is different. Science courses are usually (correct me if I’m wrong) about giving tools to help students build a product. History courses are usually about giving tools to help students build an argument. As such, the pedagogies tend to be very different. I suspect that many a history professor would be thrilled to have students from around the world engaging with the content with their differing perspectives.

    That said, I do agree that there is a need for this movement to be global, and the potential for disruption by including international perspectives is one of the things I like best. One obstacle I see there is the language barrier. Do you see English as more a help (lingua franca) or a hinderance (cultural imperialism) in this respect?

Leave a Reply