Posthumanism and the Massive Open Online Course: contaminating the Subject of Global Education
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The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) has surfaced as one of the most prominent developments in digital education in recent years, attracting significant media attention and involving some of the world’s elite universities. MOOCs are fully online courses that attract high numbers of enrolees, often in the tens of thousands, and are typically publicised as offering free participation. To date, critical analysis of the MOOC has been rare in the academic literature: this thesis will address the need for more nuanced discussions by critiquing and theorising MOOCs from the position of critical posthumanism. Posthumanist challenges to the foundationalism of the humanist subject have been well established around ecological (Pedersen 2010, 2011, Braidotti 2013), cultural (Badmington 2000a, 200b, 2003) and philosophical (Pepperell 2003, Fuller 2010) agendas, however this approach is underrepresented in digital education, and largely absent in studies of the MOOC. Thus, the MOOC project has tended to assume problematic and uncritical forms of humanism, maintaining an orthodox educational position in a field that claims innovation and disruption. The theoretical framework of critical posthumanism will be utilised to highlight the limitations of the humanist subject, and suggest a value in looking beyond this framework as the underlying rationale for MOOC education. This thesis draws upon discourse analysis, visual analysis and a post-qualitative methodology that challenges the assumption of a knowing subject in social science research to consider a broad view of the MOOC, as well as a focussed examination of two specific courses. Firstly, the corporate promotion of MOOCs is shown to tend towards a colonialist orientation that assumes a universal desire for education, and adopts a strategy of maximising global reach. This strategy is underpinned, not by the quest for territory, but for the personal data of MOOC participants. Secondly, emerging research and theories of learning that are attempting to understand the behaviours of MOOC participants are suggested to adopt normative views of participation that prohibit difference and establish particular routines as the dominant and privileged form. Thirdly, orthodox notions of authentic and sedentary educational space will be examined and shown to pervade this emerging online format, working to maintain, rather than counter, elitism and inaccessibility. Finally, notions of hybrid educational space, contaminated communities and monstrous (re)articulations of the human subject will be drawn on in suggesting alternative ways of viewing and engaging with the ‘massive’ education of the MOOC.