On Mick Fortune's recommendation, I have just got round to read Clay Shirky's article in the Guardian on moocs, which all the clever young people had probably read weeks ago. If you don't know what a mooc is, it's a massive open online course, and Shirky describes them well. Britain is entering the field with the prematurely-announced Futurelearn service, which only exists on paper; no one seems to know when it will be a reality.
However Shirky's aim is less to tell the world what moocs are, and more to speculate about how they will change higher education. On one hand, they could be a way to open up universities to the public in ways hitherto impossible; or, they could be ways to degrade the student experience yet further.
I would take issue with him on one point. Describing the American system, which has spread to Britain, whereby real teaching work is carried out, not by lecturers but by postgraduates only a few years older than their pupils, he says that, 'we've never had a good way of publishing lectures'. In fact we have; it's called the textbook. The earliest textbooks in medicine were lecture notes, either the lecturer's own or the student's. The textbook then acquired a life of its own, but was, in its origins, an means of recreating the lecture for those who hadn't been there. Thus emerged the classic method of teaching undergraduates: lecture, seminar, private reading and tutorial.
This leads me on to the question of resources. Will the mooc give the institutions, for the first time in recent decades, the upper hand in the battle with multinational publishers? Will publishers still be able to insist on restrictive and ludicrously expensive licences to sell back to institutions content created by their academics? Is a natural consequence of opening up courses, free, to all-comers, that resources too will have to be offered openly?