With Georgia Tech offering a degree programme in MOOC-format (or at least as an online degree) the next step in the process must surely be massive open online research. A fascinating article by Jon Dron of Athabasca University, MOOCs are so unambitious: introducing the MOOPhD takes up precisely this challenge; a massive open online PhD. It's not such a crazy idea but there are many important considerations and limitations.
Firstly the MOOPhD is not about awarding doctorates but providing resources to help students write articles and learn research skills. MOOCs can be provided to help teach research skills, improve academic writing, assessment skills, support for gaining funding as well as providing a wide network of peers to learn from and share experience. It's about providing scaffolding for the research process that is isn't always available on campus, at least to the same extent.
"A MOOPhD would, of necessity, be highly modular, offering student-controlled support for all parts of the research process, from research process teaching, through initial proposals, through project management, through community support, through paper writing etc. Students would choose the parts that would be of value to them at different times. Different students would have different needs and interests, and would need different support at different points along the journey. For some, they might just need a bit of help with writing papers. For others, the need might be for gaining specific skills such as statistical analysis or learning how to do reviews. More broadly, the role of a supervisory team in modelling practice and attitudes would be embedded throughout."
The MOOPhD would complement the formal process not compete with it. The post-grads would still have to publish peer-reviewed articles and write their thesis but would get considerable support from their peer network. The MOOC element could save universities from having to provide their own research skills courses. Dron also suggests crowd-funding as a possible source of research backing.
It sounds promising but the last part of the article lists a number of barriers; from ethical issues to start-up costs and gaining academic acceptance. This one is not going to happen overnight but it shows yet another way the MOOC boom might benefit higher education, not through conflict nut through integration and enhancement.