How the Apostle Paul Beat Out Beyonce

Can MOOCs be Christian?  That’s the question explored in a recent Christianity Today post.

When Harvard University offered a free-online course in early Christianity, a “massive open online course” or MOOC, so many people took part it nearly blew up the system.  As instructor Laura Nasrallah related in HuffPo,

The day the course launched was astonishing—like drinking from a fire hose. The edX discussion threads couldn’t handle the amount of people who were commenting, and crashed and slowed down. More people participated on Poetry Genius that day than ever before—the apostle Paul beat out Beyonce!

As the CT post explores, some Christian universities are exploring the MOOC model.  But there is some disagreement about the value of the platform.  Could this be a great way to reach more students with the Christian higher-ed message?  Or does this do violence to the need for face-to-face personal contact in a truly Christian intellectual environment?

Christian universities aren’t the only folks struggling with the notion of the MOOC.  As we’ve noted, a variety of conservative intellectuals have also disagreed about the desirability of MOOCing.  Some free-market types have salivated over the notion of bureaucracy-free, low-cost, open colleges.  Other conservatives have worried that MOOCs will abandon the traditional element of character-formation in higher education.

Harvard University has not been a bastion of conservative Protestantism since at least 1805.  Nevertheless, its course on early Christianity seems to be one of the most popular academic experiences of the MOOC era.


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1 Comment

  1. I found the question of whether MOOCs are anti-Christian to be very badly formed when I read the CT piece, and my opinion hasn’t changed on that point. If it’s replacing a college experience where you get to interact and be heard and get actual guidance from someone qualified to give it, that’s not just anti-Christian, it’s anti-human. Particularly if the people being served are lower income, minorities of any kind, the people who are least likely to actually be heard anyway.

    MOOCs can have a real value here: they can make college more affordable by replacing traditional textbooks or otherwise making content available cheaply or for free so students can be prepared for in-class interaction. I’ve had a lot of success this term pairing Michael Sandel’s lectures with primary source documents, both two books (Aristotle’s Nic Ethics, Kant’s Groundwork) and a selection of primary sources students print out from online. The upshot is our course resources cost about $20 for the books and another $10 in printing costs at the computer labs – much better than if I had them buy a textbook or an anthology, and it seems to work just as well. This, I think, is the real value of MOOCs, and there’s nothing un-Christian about using them in their proper context to make college more accessible to students who struggle with costs.


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