The WOPR, the fictional military supercomputer featured in the film War Games. It was given the job of monitoring nuclear missile silos after too many Air Force missileers refused to launch during a live fire exercise. They figured it would be better to let a supercomputer oversee nuclear apocalypse – let the technology do the job and keep the messy, creative, interrogating types out of this!

Sadly the-powers-that-be are beguiled by their absolute trust in the artificially intelligent computer, forgetting that the computer’s code is written by people and there is an ethics to algorithms.

This thinking is sadly what I believe is driving a set of supercomputer styled MOOCs to build a WOPR for higher education. Figuring that if we put enough processor power behind the education problem we’ll solve it. Those teachers, we can’t trust them?! They might not make the right assessment at the moment when real learning is to happen! They’re flawed – god knows they’re all unionized!

I’m so dismayed about how the dominant coversation about MOOCs looks nothing like what I first discovered less than two years ago, which emphasized the opportunities the interent provided to create communities. Instead it’s been replaced by the cold-war thinking WOPR. A machine that looks to the traditional model of higher ed – structured course timelines, traditional lectures (in 5-10 min bites revolutionary!), and yes of course quizes, tests and final exams.

I just wish the supercomputer MOOCs would get to the end of the War Games narrative already – just ask the MOOC to play itself. They’d realize that they’re only building an arsenal of educational weapons that fulfills only their mutually assured pedigreed awesomeness. They don’t really care about what higher education really looks like, instead they want to assure us all that they’ve got higher education’s future under control, the old models are still right, we just need to scale them.

But that’s a strange game. And the only winning move is not to play.