The Rise of the MOOC: Elite Online Higher Education at Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, & Harvard
Benjamin Gebre-Medhin

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Berkeley

Primary Discipline

Using the case of online tertiary education, this mixed methods dissertation evaluates how computer scientists and engineers have used frames associated with the internet to pursue wide ranging reform projects, and how these projects have been received by other actors in the field. While the organization and field level outcomes of the MOOC movement remain uncertain, understanding the process by which this group of technical faculty and staff has come to the forefront of reform efforts in a field historically dominated by faculty from letters and sciences, and how these experts negotiate the resistance they face along the way, are important in evaluating how expertise is constructed and deployed in institutional reform projects within higher ed. This empirical topic also provides a new perspective from which to evaluate the shifting institutional structures of the 21st century American university. The dissertation begins with a content analysis of higher education trade publications (Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, etc) using machine assisted topic modeling techniques to analyze shifts in discourse about online course delivery during the internet era. To further analyze this changes, a second substantive section builds on primary qualitative interview data from two of the most significant academic sites for this reform movement: Cambridge (MIT, Harvard, and edX), and the Bay Area (Stanford, Berkeley, Coursera and Udacity). In so doing I analyze the parallel migration of a community of practice (modern academic computer scientists) and a mode of organization (MOOC based online course delivery) from the periphery of a field to its core.
About Benjamin Gebre-Medhin
Ben Gebre-Medhin, a PhD candidate in Sociology at UC Berkeley, has a long standing academic interest in the politics of higher education around the world. As an undergraduate at Dartmouth College he wrote a thesis on the role of universities, and university students, in a proto-democracy movement in Eritrea in 2001. In graduate school, Ben expanded this interest with a qualifying paper that analyzed the relationship between East African universities and politics in the early postcolonial period. For his dissertation Ben has turned his attention to the field of contemporary US higher education by focusing on the advent of online higher education efforts at elite American universities. Originally from Cambridge, MA, Ben spent much of the decade before returning to graduate school in the Global South. Prior to attending Berkeley Ben served as the Eastern European student outreach coordinator for DIA (a student civil society NGO based in Budapest), a research consultant for Action Without Borders/ in Tanzania and Kenya, and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jordan.

Pin It on Pinterest