Can instructors configure EdTech platform (in)dependence? Reconsidering pre-pandemic USA university MOOCs and online degrees

Duncan Andrew Thomas*, Maria Nedeva

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstract for conferenceResearch


Many sectors now heavily depend upon products and services provided by online platform firms. Even before COVID-19 closed classrooms in 2020 and spurred a mass shift to remote emergency teaching using online platforms, universities were already platform-dependent, and reliant on private educational technology (EdTech) provider firms. From the 2010s, many USA universities developed free open online courses (MOOCs) and paid fully online degrees, partnering with EdTech platform providers like Silicon Valley for-profit, Coursera. Some outsourced for material to be delivered for them by EdTech online programme management (OPM) firms, like 2U. Successes became potential templates for how universities might teach online ‘at scale’, but the reality of pandemic teaching largely instead added extra platforms, like Zoom videoconferencing, to simply broadcast existing classes to students. Ultimately, what dynamics are we seeing in this EdTech provider/university context, in how faculty instructors can configure how platform-dependent they become? To critically reflect on this, we revisit not pandemic emergency choices, but rather decisions beforehand. We reanalyse interviews originally conducted in 2017, at USA universities highly active with free MOOCs, fully online degrees, and an EdTech-enabled alternative university. From this, we see five configurations, with varying (in)dependence features regarding faculty instructor (roles, reputations, job security), platform (delivery, interactivity, assessment, certification), and course characteristics (career sector targeted, how fast course materials refresh, and instruction language). This high variety of platform (in)dependence dimensions suggests we might expect similar dynamics regarding pandemic EdTech providers. This could, in future, help problematise any assumptions that pandemic teaching was a homogenously configured, single platform-dependent period, as might be suggested if the significance of Zoom-based online teaching, for example, is overemphasised.
Original languageEnglish
Publication dateMay 2022
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - May 2022
EventVarieties of platformisation? How EdTech shapes higher education worldwide - Online workshop
Duration: 25 May 202225 May 2022


WorkshopVarieties of platformisation? How EdTech shapes higher education worldwide
LocationOnline workshop
Internet address


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