The winds of change are blowing—this time in the hallowed halls of higher education. As it has done with so much of our daily lives, the Internet is making inroads into academia with the growing use of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. While the debate is still ongoing as to whether this developing form of teaching will change the future of higher education in the long run, the surge in MOOCs is creating the potential to offer much broader channels of learning for anyone with an Internet connection.
MOOCs—the good and bad
How can professors and students benefit from these Massive Open Online Courses? And what makes a good MOOC? First of all, MOOCs give professors and instructors a huge amount of data about how students are comprehending the class material. This allows for the adjustment of materials to improve comprehension, whether it is for an online class or one that takes place in a physical classroom. Additionally, MOOCs promote a university on a much broader scale to a truly global audience.
But with these positives come drawbacks, as well, including low completion rates and high costs.On January 28, 2013, David Skorton and Glenn Altschuler wrote “MOOCs: A College Education Online?” for Forbes that “the completion rate for the first MOOC, a course on artificial intelligence offered by Stanford in 2011, was 13 percent.” Skorton and Altschuler added that “A good MOOC employs many tools, including blogs, online discussion boards, Twitter, tagging, and document sharing … When done well, the production is complicated, time-consuming, and expensive.”
Coursera vs. edX
Currently, two MOOC platforms are vying to see how this new world of online learning will change higher education. Founded by Harvard University and MIT (and recently joined by the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Texas system) edX is a nonprofit organization that offers subject matter such as public health, computer science, artificial intelligence, software, computer programming and solid state chemistry.
The other offering is Coursera, a for-profit company founded by two Stanford University professors. It offers a broader spectrum of classes—from science, technology and engineering to humanities and the social sciences. In an article for the January-February 2013 issue of Research Technology Management found on Questia.com, “A Fresh Twist on Online Learning,” Peter Gwynne writes, “The impact of these new approaches on traditional higher education remains to be seen. But the prestige of the universities offering the online courses and students’ initial response indicate that would-be employers, particularly in industry, should prepare to deal with a new channel for potential recruits.”
The future of MOOCs
The permanence of MOOCs may revolve around whether or not these Massive Open Online Courses begin to offer credits to students and if they can be a source of revenue for their higher education sources. Udacity, another developer of MOOCs, has partnered with the California State University system for a pilot project to develop three introductory math courses through San Jose State University (SJSU). The classes will be available to the public for free for no credit. If the student wants to take the course for a credit, there will be a $150 fee (the typical per course fee at SJSU is $450 to $750).
On January 25, 2013, Rick Anderson posted “The Shadow of the MOOC Grows Longer” on the scholarlykitchen.org about the SJSU model stating, “This suggests one way that a MOOC might become financially sustainable.” He adds that while MOOCs could still turn out to be a passing fad, the implementation of scenarios like the one with SJSU is one indicator that “the MOOC’s potential as a disruptor of traditional higher education grows.”