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Month: November 2014

MOOC: the next hyped bubble?

There’s been a lot of talk in the (tech) media about the future of education being online, especially in the form of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). So far, I haven’t looked closely due to not enough interest and/or time, but I did fall over an interesting one on edX today and looked a bit closer. edX has an impressive list of schools and partners listed, so it much be good, right? The course description pages have a nice summary sidebar, with school, start date, course length, estimated effort in hours per week, and prerequisites, but does not mention the price. While the price actually is well-hidden half-way through the page, I at this point assumed I had to sign up before seeing the price. During this process, there is not only a Terms and Conditions, but also a Privacy Policy and an Honor Code, as the usual click-through bullets in any webpage these days. I did wonder about the Honor Code though and had a click glance. It includes wonderful titbits like this:

EdX reserves the right to modify these TOS at any time without advance notice

My interest was spiked. It continues:

Any changes to these TOS will be effective immediately upon posting on this page, with an updated effective date. By accessing the Site after any changes have been made, you signify your agreement on a prospective basis to the modified TOS and all of the changes

Aha! Not only do I have to give a carte blanche to whatever they feel like to write in there in the future without telling me, but also after reading the new terms, I already accepted them as I had to access the site to find out about them. Catch 22.

Another glance a bit further down the page, I noticed I had to grant edX a license. Interesting I thought, let’s find out. Anyone remember the hot water Facebook found itself in a while back?

License Grant to edX. By submitting or distributing your User Postings, you hereby grant to edX a worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, assignable, sub licensable, fully paid-up, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to host, transfer, display, perform, reproduce, modify, distribute, re-distribute, relicense and otherwise use, make available and exploit your User Postings, in whole or in part, in any form and in any media formats and through any media channels (now known or hereafter developed).

Clearly, that’s a lot broader than what’s needed for the operation of the site where users’ comments are shared between other users and instructors.

Needless to say, I stopped reading here, not even bothering with the TOC or Privacy Policy. Next time a reporter goes raving that MOOCs are the greatest thing invented since sliced bread, solving everything from the bored life of university professors to literacy and poverty in the 3rd world, point them to the small print. At a $250 fee and those kinds of legalese, it seems the nice people behind these MOOCs are not just doing it for the good of society.

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