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For Disruption, MOOCs Beat Open-Access Journals, Scholar Says

MOOCs are more disruptive to higher education than open-access megajournals are, in part because of structural protections in the scholarly-publishing world and because some policy makers are pushing massive open online courses as a means to increase productivity, a professor argues in a new article on open-access alternatives in higher education.

The privatization of the delivery of educational services via MOOC platforms and other models is seen by some politicians as a solution to “the perceived higher-education crisis of cost, access, completion, and productivity,” writes Richard Wellen, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at York University, in Toronto, and the author of the article. It is titled “Open Access, Megajournals, and MOOCs: On the Political Economy of Academic Unbundling.”

“The proliferation of portable and reusable educational resources—as well as policies and technologies that encourage academic freelancing—will likely expand the relative size of the teaching-only sector in higher education and challenge traditional practices of academic governance,” Mr. Wellen writes.

The article was published by Sage Open, an open-access online journal, and coincides with the sixth annual Open Access Week, which promotes free and immediate access to information, particularly scholarly research. The article examines government support for open content in the United States and Britain, as well as structural changes in higher education that could be triggered by the technology-fueled unbundling of academic material and educational resources. Mr. Wellen identifies megajournals and MOOCs as two of the most “well-known developments” in open academic content.

Open-access megajournals such as PLoS One and Scientific Reports have already brought change, according to the article. They are an alternative to high-priced subscription journals, and they test expensive review cycles and the traditional publishing pecking order, Mr. Wellen writes. Still, the market for scholarly publishing is somewhat rigid and therefore less susceptible to disruption, he argues. Academics “do not seem to be prepared to fully repudiate the gatekeeping function of academic journals and publishers,” he says.

The top-tier traditional journals remain a trusted source for identifying important new research, Mr. Wellen writes. “Furthermore, university elites and researchers fear that open-access mandates may threaten academic freedom and institutional autonomy, and therefore prefer to see slower and more nuanced changes.”

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