MOOC: making the metaphorical bridge two-way!

‘Bridge’ is a favourite metaphor with social scientists, but they little remember that a bridge is a two-way connection. Economists talk of bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots, other social scientists want to ‘bridge’ other divides: the educational divide, the digital divide, the development divide, and so on. In all these notions, there is a premise that there is something that is required to flow from a height to a lower point. In talking of movement from the more endowed to the less endowed, as it were, there is an assumption already in place about what these endowments are and what they must mean to those who are, because of the so-called ‘bridge’, enabled to have them.

The other side of the bridge is actually an abyss for those at the altitude, and these include the policy-makers as well as the institutions and individuals who contribute to their policy-making. All of them use the metaphor of the bridge, but forget that they can use it too, to go over to the other side. Result: the people who are behind the policies fail in their endeavour to really connect with the people for whom they make their policies. So, you have notions of development – I include under this umbrella term everything that seems to be counted as an indicator: from purchasing power and nutrition to infrastructure, including toilets and schools and borewells – being foisted on an audience whose exact conditions are not explicitly understood.

MOOC – massive open online courses – have not only reached out to bridge the educational divide brought about by lack of access to the best of teachers and lack of resources to pursue higher education, they are also using the bridge to learn from their global audience. They are using the enormous amount of data generated to address macro-issues related to technology, content and accessibility, and also micro-issues such as what concepts in a particular course require to be presented differently. To see Stanford professor, and Coursera founder, Daphne Koller’s TED talk ‘What we’re learning from online education?’  click on link HERE.


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