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MOOCs: What University CIOs Really Think

Why Wesleyan embraced Coursera, Amherst rejected edX, and Rollins is going its own way.

Schoknecht said Rollins College will offer its first MOOC-style course this summer, but on its own terms. Rather than partnering with a MOOC company or consortium, Rollins plans to host the course on Blackboard, without quite the same emphasis on the "massive" part. Based in Winter Park, Fla., Rollins is a liberal arts college much like Amherst and wanted to operate under its own brand, she said. "We're going to advertise this first to our students, our parents, and our alumni," Schoknecht said.

Although the course will be open to anyone who wants to register, Rollins will promote it primarily through the Associated Colleges of the South, a consortium of 16 institutions whose members will also be encouraged to make it available to their students, parents and alumni.

Most of the other schools represented in the room were still evaluating what, if anything, they will do with MOOCs. On the other hand, Rice University is working with both Coursera and edX, largely because of strong faculty interest in innovating with online education. Rice is also a hotbed of activity in the open educational resources movement, with its OpenStax textbook initiative and other projects.

Because both Coursera and edX have branded themselves as offering access to courses from elite universities, not everyone has even been invited to join.

Many of the university technology leaders mentioned 2U as the company most aggressively beating down their doors, offering a platform that would allow them to charge tuition for online courses -- although some CIOs who had investigated it as an option complained that it takes too big a cut of the profits. 2U has mostly focused on supporting graduate school programs, although just this week it opened registration on a semester online program it is offering in partnership with Boston College, Brandeis University, Emory University, Northwestern University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis. Modeled on semester-abroad programs, it allows students to take a semester away from the on-campus experience, but not for free.

Justin Sipher, VP of libraries and information technology at St. Lawrence University, said the liberal arts colleges who have so far been lukewarm to the MOOC phenomenon might be making a mistake by "sheltering students from an experience of lifelong learning" that they ought to be exposed to. Even if an institution is concerned about diluting its brand with online offerings, students probably ought to be required to learn how to learn in an online course "just like you must learn a lot of other things as part of a liberal arts education," he said.

At the same time, Sipher said the MOOCs getting all the press now are probably "at the peak of inflated expectations" -- a term from the technology advisor firm Gartner's "hype cycle" model of the technology boom-and-bust cycle. Some of these enthusiasms turn out to be fads, he noted, like the idea of creating learning experiences in the virtual world Second Life, which was popular a few years ago.

Former Massachusetts Institute of Technology CIO Marilyn Smith said there is a bigger issue of meeting the expectations of "students who have been brought up in a different world," accustomed to highly interactive experiences such as gaming that have their own learning value. Universities should embrace the opportunity to discover new ways of learning and measuring learning, both online and off, she said.

"This is also about blended learning and how to enhance the residential experience, not so much just the MOOCs. Capturing data we've never captured before through assessment is a really critical part of this," Smith said. One way or the other, "the undergraduate experience is going to change."

Follow David F. Carr at @davidfcarr or Google+, along with @IWKEducation.

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User Rank: Apprentice
5/21/2013 | 1:47:01 PM
re: MOOCs: What University CIOs Really Think
I also attended this CIO summit in San Diego and took away these same observations. All to confirm that MOOCs are and will be a disruptive force in higher education. My recent post about GT's partnership with Udacity and AT&T in Higher Ed Tech Talk is just another example of this. As CIO's we balance faculty fears with leadership ambitions as we mediate this discussion.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/5/2013 | 5:50:05 PM
re: MOOCs: What University CIOs Really Think
Network Week (RIP) used to have a "centerfold" with network structure of major institutions: I remember Key Bank,, UIUC, et al. My point is that a 3,000 student college is less impressive than talking about the network infrastructure of the city of Lodi, CA. I would be more impressed if IW showcased 30,000+ schools like UCLA, U of Washington, U of Utah, etc. Significant contributions to networking like Stanford (Arpanet, Sun, Cisco, et al), UCSB, UIUC (NCSA, Netscape/Mozilla is Mosaic clone), MIT (opencourseware, history of online games,etc), would be relevant. But Wesleyan? Lame of you.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/5/2013 | 5:19:39 PM
re: MOOCs: What University CIOs Really Think
My experiences at larger Universities is that Full Professors may lecture, but Teaching Assistants (a way to pay Graduate students who otherwise work for free doing the professors research) do test proctoring etc. The Professors get a stipend from the University whether they "teach" in that quarter or not. Funny: one prof was gone for a few weeks and had TA set up a playback device at the podium in his place. Next "lecture" the students were replaced by recording devices aimed at the podium. Any different than an online course?
Robert McGuire
Robert McGuire,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/5/2013 | 3:09:51 AM
re: MOOCs: What University CIOs Really Think
I can lend some anecdotal evidence to the "promotion/publicity" argument for offering MOOCs. One of our reviewers who took the Wesleyan cinema course, who is from Greece, told me she hesitated to enroll because she had never heard of the school. It's not on a list she has of the best universities in the world. Now that she's taken the course, she know recognizes Wesleyan as one of the world's great teaching colleges.
User Rank: Ninja
5/3/2013 | 8:17:20 PM
re: MOOCs: What University CIOs Really Think
Online education does not have to be free, but by now a singe master's course costs well over 1,000$ at a run of the mill state university. That is totally insane! If for credit online courses are in the area of a few hundred bucks and on campus courses are a bit more expensive higher education will be way more affordable. The funny thing is, it is usually the other way around, online courses are more expensive than the on campus courses.
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