Massive Open Online Catholicism

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

A professor at a Catholic college claims to make “A Catholic Case Against MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses]” in the Chronicle of Higher Education but his arguments never veer far from the secular.  “Moral education, which Catholic institutions promise (and secular ones, too, should offer), relies on dialogue and physical proximity. Students therefore need accessible mentors on the faculty as well as counselors, advisers, and chaplains,” Jonathan Malesic of King’s College in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, writes.

Yet the moral education he envisions is not one that necessarily involves the seven sacraments but does primarily include himself. “By forswearing the production and consumption of MOOCs, Catholic colleges would also show that social justice entails not replacing human labor (here, faculty) with cheaper, less effective machine labor,” he asserts.

He manages to invoke a papal encyclical to support his claims. “In his 1981 encyclical on work, Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II acknowledged that technology can aid our work, but he also warned that it can become an ‘enemy’ by displacing workers and robbing work of its rightful meaning,” Malesic writes. “The threat is that technology will depersonalize both the work and the worker, who is, the pope argued, ‘the primary basis of the value of work.’”

“MOOCs undercut that value for academic workers.” He goes on to give somewhat misleading definitions of two Catholic principles: “If, in a few decades, the number of Catholic colleges in the United States amounts to only a handful of mega-universities, with most students taking classes online, in physical isolation from their professors and peers, then the project of Catholic higher education will have failed. Not only will it have abandoned personal and local education, but it will have elevated the market principles of competition and consolidation above the Catholic social-justice principles of solidarity (making decisions that benefit the common good) and subsidiarity (making decisions at the lowest and most local possible level).”

Of the Common Good, Pope John Paul II went on to note that it is not the “[F]eeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”

On the principle of solidarity, the pope noted that, “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the social assistance state leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need.”

“This guy dresses like he’s a model out of a Gap catelog and admits strange things to the class, like not knowing the subject at hand and having no friends in high school,” one of Malesic’s students observed on Rate My

Indeed, it would appear that the professor faces a very real threat of a mass exodus if MOOCs do indeed start to cover his subject matter. “He also instructs students to leave if they are not interested, then he gets angered when students do leave,” another reviewer wrote on RMP.

“He also found it rather amusing to say things behind student’s backs, such as they act like high schoolers, after telling students to leave if not interested in the subject at hand,” another reviewer wrote.


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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