Current Affairs Higher Education Political Rants and Raves

We Fought the MOOCS and Now They’re Back (and so are we)!

By Alexandra Juhasz, Liz Losh, Laura Wexler and Sharon Irish (for FemTechNet,

Image from Just Seeds Collective

Just a few years ago Massive Open Online Courses were grabbing headlines by promising to deliver Ivy League education to the masses all around the world. They failed.  Hundreds of thousands of eager learners signed up, but only a minuscule fraction of them finished the courses. Digital certificates proved worthless to graduates. A potential financial bonanza for venture capitalists went south, as Silicon Valley companies regretted their investments. But as Naomi Klein has taught us, Capitalism loves a Crisis, and now the MOOCS are back!  “Learning Management” has come of age in the Coronavirus Crisis.

To counter the corporate vision of the MOOC, in 2013 we offered up a corrective: the DOCC  — the Distributed Open Collaborative Course — developed and refined over many years and iterations as well as at diverse institutions by a feminist collective of teachers, students, artists, activists, technologists and librarians. Where MOOCS were were designed to be Massive, Online, Open and frankly, Corporate, our feminist alternative, DOCCs were intimate, crafted, distributed and collaborative. And where MOOCS have the imprimatur of the most wealthy and exclusive educational institutions and technology corporations in the country, we are feminists, often precariously employed, and our chief resource was the feminist pedagogy that the DOCC employed.  

So now, we’re back as well. When teachers and students are called so quickly to migrate our teaching and learning to corporate online spaces because of COVID-19, FemTechNet knows that what we learned and created before is even more crucial now.  Our DOCC—as well as our whitepapers on feminism and technology, accessibility, online violence, ethnic studies, and more—have vital utility.   

FemTechNet members at work

On Sunday afternoon, March 28, 2020, together on BlueJeans, we wrote a white paper;  we wrote it quickly, to get it out fast. The coronavirus is a crisis for pedagogy, but like any crisis, it also opens new opportunities. We know we can teach otherwise and elsewhere than where we are being pushed.  We share three of our main points below. In our current white paper, “Feminist Pedagogy in a Time of Corona Virus Pandemic” (available on our site) we also offer more bullet-pointed ideas for feminist thinking about digital pedagogy, drawn from what we know after a decade of practicing it, as well as questions we can all consider as we make the mad rush online. Importantly, we know that with time, care, and collaborative thinking, the online medium has valuable new things to offer. 

  • We assert the possibility for distributed learning, and in real time (or in asynchronous time, see below) exchanges can take place across surprising distances and differences. 
  • We encourage “minimum viable courses”: by this we do not mean less, it’s an opportunity to rethink what a class is and could be. For now, simpler is better.
  • We know that they call it “distance learning,” but it can be intimate, horizontal, distributed, online, in real life learning.

Please read.  Please share. Please INVENT rather than merely obey the rules for getting through this crisis.


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