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MOOCs can enroll hundreds of thousands of people, and -- like any massive online arena -- they offer some sense of anonymity, which can enable harassment among learners on the message boards.
Moreover, MOOCs such as Lewin’s have been marketed as access to the most brilliant minds in academe -- superstar professors whose decades of experience and prominence in their fields made them known quantities, not potential predators.
Eventually, she said she discovered she was one of many women, which MIT confirmed.
Harbi last October sent MIT a packet of more than 100 chat logs, emails, pictures, recordings and screenshots to document the harassment against her and other women.
“I would call it an unprecedented area,” said Erin Buzuvis, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Studies at Western New England University.
“There isn’t even a lot of precedent for online harassment in general.” Sexual harassment of students in face-to-face courses is not unheard-of, however, said Billie Wright Dziech, a professor of English at the University of Cincinnati who explored the issue in the book which she co-wrote.
She said she decided to take a physics course after struggling with the subject in high school.
Lewin’s debut as a massive open online course instructor was announced with some fanfare: “Afraid of physics? Harbi spoke openly to but asked that her maiden name be used.
She is now coming forward because she is concerned the case will be forgotten.
She takes medications for anxiety and depression, which she told Lewin makes it difficult for her to concentrate.
Lewin, Harbi said, told her he would help her regain some self-confidence.
She gave permission to view the contents on condition that they not be published and that names of the other women not be disclosed.
The various pieces of evidence include nudity and sexually explicit language.
“It’s really going to depend on [Lewin] having shown his unsuitability for that job in the past,” Robbins said. They were guided by MIT policies with respect to teacher-learner interactions.” As MIT pointed out, Lewin, 78, taught his last course on campus in spring 2008 and retired the next year.