A backlash against the MOOC phenomenon has been building for months, particularly among faculty members who are suspicious that they will become tools for political agenda that seeks to undermine public education and replace it with commodity online resources. Even at elite institutions such as Harvard, which partnered with MIT to create the edX MOOC platform, liberal arts professors are protesting the rush to embrace MOOCs, which they worry will undermine the personal, intellectual connection inherent to a liberal arts education.
University of Kentucky's Kellen said he has his share of MOOC skeptics on campus, but the approach his institution is taking to partnering with Coursera has helped mollify them. "In this particular case, we're all agreed it's very important to improve the readiness of students who enter college and the success of their first years here -- at least we have a common cause, in that sense," he said.
Kellen added that the Coursera partnership also provides an opportunity to prove how combining online content with face-to-face learning provides a better result. Besides, he pointed out, in the introductory courses where MOOCs will be applied first, students rarely get an intimate personal experience as it is.
"We've been growing our own version of the MOOC for years -- it's called the large lecture hall," Kellen said. The MOOC approach could be the key to managing high-volume course requirements more effectively. "If everybody focuses hard on how to make students successful, that's the right angle."
This new group of partners will not be on quite the same footing as the universities Coursera has worked with in the past, meaning they haven't necessarily been invited to publish the courses they create to the MOOC platform's main catalog. They have the option of making their courses public, but those courses will appear in a separate section of the website.
According to Koller, that division is being justified for a mix of "capacity and quality" reasons. "Coursera's initial focus on elite institutions, whose courses were offered under the brand of the institution, helped ensure that they have a strong motivation -- as strong as or stronger than ours -- for providing high-quality courses to maintain their reputation." She added that Coursera wants to maintain a reputation for quality but doesn't have time to scrutinize every course.
"Right now, we're not opening the doors to everyone because we just don't have the resources to do that quality control."