Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad MOOC?

The latest venture into the world of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, is a new consortium of research universities headed by Coursera to offer such opportunities.  I'm all for incorporating technological advances to help deliver educational content and opportunities to students.  As I wrote in a recent newsletter on campus,
The question we should ask ourselves is now that such material and experiences can be delivered adequately, if not superbly, online and globally, what does this free us up to do in the on-campus environment?
I think there will be plenty of good answers to that question.  I see online opportunities more as complements than as substitutes for on-campus learning.  So MOOCs just don't get me riled up.  There is quite a lot still left to be determined about them if they are to substitute for what we traditionally regard as a college education. Consider these passages from The New York Times article announcing the venture:
MOOCs were largely unknown until a wave of publicity last year about Stanford University’s free online artificial intelligence course attracted 160,000 students from 190 countries. Only a small percentage of the students completed the course, but even so, the numbers were staggering.

[...]

David P. Szatmary, the university [of Washington]’s vice provost, said that to earn credit, students would probably have to pay a fee, do extra assignments and work with an instructor.

[...]

Coursera does not pay the universities, and the universities do not pay Coursera, but both incur substantial costs. Contracts provide that if a revenue stream emerges, the company and the universities will share it.

Although MOOCs will have to be self-sustaining some day — whether by charging students for credentials or premium services or by charging corporate recruiters for access to the best students — Ms. Koller and university officials said that was not a pressing concern.

[...]

One looming hurdle is overcoming online cheating.

[...]

Grading presents some questions, too.

The hurdles, open questions, and unresolved issues are all the messy parts of running a sustainable education business.

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