Sunday, May 13, 2012

An American In Paris: How MOOCs Could Make Diverse Recruitment Actions Affirmative

Paul Glader / Managing Editor of Wired Academic 

PARIS – How could massively online open courses (MOOCs) disrupt the admissions process 10 years from now at schools that are experimenting with MOOCs: Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and University of Pennsylvania?

I thought about that question during a recent visit to SciencesPo, the elite political science university in Paris, where many of the ruling elite in French and Parisian society ... .

Popping Into The Bubble of French Elitism


An administrator at the university told us that SciencesPo, with 10,000 students, realized it needed a more diverse student body than its largely white, French-origin students who are sons and daughters of doctors, lawyers, politicians and teachers. [snip].


The New York Times reported on the program (In France, A Bastion of Privilege No More) in 2011:

With 40 percent of the student body now coming from outside of France, Mr. Descoings and the institution he heads have embraced a future that looks very different from the world he grew up in — a world where “everybody’s children went to the same schools — as we say in France, education was a form of ‘social reproduction’ — these students did not have success given to them at birth. The world is very different when you have to win what you get.”

The afternoon visit made me think about the future and potential of the MOOC trend growing in the US and how it might change future recruiting at elite institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge in the UK and the eight Ivy League colleges in the United States. I asked the SciencesPo administrator if his school is considering MOOC classes as another way to educate a larger number of capable young people?

“In France, I think not,” he said. School officials are looking into online programs. But it’s not very far along.

How MOOCs Could Disturb the Elites

Many Ivy League schools practice some form of Affirmative Action or creating a “diverse” student body that reflects American society and adds a variety of views and backgrounds. Already, a middle class or poor student accepted at most Ivy League universities in the US will not have to pay tuition ... .

The SciencesPo innovation is that it is actively recruiting the best and brightest minority applicants from high schools rather than – as elite US colleges do – leaving that process up to SATs, ACTs and the normal admission procedure, meaning it still requires students (and parents) to market the student in a way the school wants.

One amazing thing about the MOOC classes of edX (Harvard and MIT’s project) or Coursera (a For-profit startup involving Stanford, Princeton, UPenn and others) is that it opens up potential to go a step further in finding and recruiting talent, merit-based academic talent, in hidden places – from Africa, China or inner-city Detroit. [snip].


Will the next Albert Einstein matriculate through a MOOC course onto the campus of Princeton?

It wouldn’t surprise me.

And he or she might be from rural China or metropolitan Rio de Janeiro.

The winner in this equation: Knowledge, merit-based learning and the dominance of top institutions if they truly bring in the elite minds rather than just the elite’s wealth to their school.


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