Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence

Publication Details

Presented at the Higher Education in Transformation Symposium November 2 - 4, 2016 in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada


This paper offers a critical political-economy of the promise and disappointment of the for- profit Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) in higher education. Our goal is to encourage awareness, dialogue, and reflexivity about the gap between the rhetoric and reality of the MOOC in higher education and to highlight and interrogate the persuasive and profit power interests served by “the rhetoric of the MOOC.” To this end, the first section outlines our critical approach and defines some key concepts: “the rhetoric of technology,” “the political- economy of edu-tech” and “the public sphere.” The second section highlights the MOOC’s rhetorical promises and real disappointments. The third section contextualizes the “rhetoric of the MOOC” with regard to the persuasive and profit power interests it serves, and then evaluates this rhetoric with regard to the norms and values of the public sphere. We argue this rhetoric is a promotional discourse that is a poor guide to public deliberation and decision making about the role of technology in higher education. In closing, we propose the ideal and practice “technological citizenship” to encourage policy-makers, administrators, professors and students to have more democratic dialogue about educational technology, so that they, not the rhetoric of educational technology and the industry that sells it, can design the future of higher education.