“Soon, your MOOC performance will be sold to online recruiters taking advantage of the kinds of information that big data allows—fine distinctions not only on content assimilation but also participation, contribution to, and status within associated online communities. But what if these new possibilities—used by recruiters and managers to efficiently and objectively get the best talent—only bake in current inequities?”
Excerpted from Herminia Ibarra:
“Soon, your MOOC performance will be sold to online recruiters taking advantage of the kinds of information that big data allows—fine distinctions not only on content assimilation but also participation, contribution to, and status within associated online communities. But what if these new possibilities—used by recruiters and managers to efficiently and objectively get the best talent—only bake in current inequities? Or create new ones?
Lauded as purveyors of equality, the data not only show that most MOOC-takers are well-educated, employed, young and male —but that most of the teachers, especially the “stars,” are men. And as a recent article entitled “Masculine Open Online Courses” warns, MOOCs may be taking academe back “to the days of huge gender gaps, when senior scholars overwhelmingly were men.” Yet who teaches us is important in more ways than one. Look at any piece of research about the subtle, systemic or “second-generation bias” holding back women and minorities in business and you will find lack of role models at the top of the list. After all, who are among our first role models (after the parents, if we’re lucky): Our teachers. Speaking from experience, I know that I would not have ended up a Yale PhD if my department head at the University of Miami, Dr. Robert Tallerico, hadn’t personally encouraged and mentored me from day one.
Far from democratizing education, critics argue that MOOCs will only reinforce those with power and weaken those without it. Early evidence from MOOCs suggests huge falloff rates. After Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun’s very public defection from the MOOC church, he was lambasted for conducting a for-profit “experiment” at San Jose State without thought to whether completion rates might differ across racial and class lines. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened to me if my first year at university was all MOOC. Did Thrun and his colleagues consider the possibility that the issue might not have been a “difficult neighborhood without good access to computers” but lack of contact and identification with the faculty?
And let’s look more closely at those online games that Don Peck reports on in his Atlantic piece. As more recruiters use gaming data for hiring decisions, are they inadvertently ensuring a homogenous workforce? Males rack up many more hours of practice at these kinds of games than females, a recent Sex Roles study demonstrates. Gaming is also associated with less time spent doing homework, i.e., working hard—the essential ingredient girls, minorities and immigrants (I know, I tick all 3) rely on to get ahead. I cannot imagine my parents saying “honey, put away those textbooks and work on your games or you’ll never get anywhere in life.”
And yet recruiters are taking this data seriously. “How long you hesitate before taking every action, the sequence of actions you take, how you solve problems,” says one purveyor of workforce analytics, “all of these factors and many more are logged as you play, and then are used to analyze your creativity, your persistence, your capacity to learn quickly from mistakes, your ability to prioritize, and even your social intelligence and personality.” Even after only twenty minutes of play, you will generate several megabytes of data that “compose a high-resolution portrait of your psyche and intellect, and an assessment of your potential as a leader or an innovator.”
There’s more. The Sex Roles study’s co-author says another possible contributor to girls’ lack of interest in gaming is the scarcity of women working in the game-design industry. “88 percent of game developers are male,” Heeter says, adding that “games designed to optimally appeal to women might minimize in-game performance pressure, provide real-world benefits such as stress relief, brain exercise or more quality time with family and friends, and be playable in short chunks of time.”
Which leads to another question: What if “in-game performance pressure” triggers stereotype threat?”