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Wesleyan's Secrets To Successful MOOCs

Wesleyan University polls students regularly and avoids flashy Hollywood techniques to ensure its massive open online courses are effective without breaking the budget.

One of the instructors is the school's own president, Michael Roth, who brought his course The Modern and the Postmodern to the Coursera platform. Roth has taught this course conventionally for decades.

"It's been really heady, the level of excitement and learning," Roth said about his 14-week course, which attracted 25,000 enrollments. "[25,000] sounds like a lot, but my colleague has 200,000 in his social psychology class," he said.

Not only was the diversity notable, with students from all over the world, Roth said the discussion-board exchanges were "great."

"The quality is just wonderful," he said, adding he also didn't anticipate so much camaraderie from people with such different backgrounds. Roth plans to reprise his Coursera MOOC this fall.

Switching hats to his administrative role, Roth said he doesn't believe MOOCs per se will have a disruptive impact on schools like Wesleyan.

He also rejected the argument that schools are pursuing MOOCs as a stealth approach to gutting their faculty ranks.

"I think technologies of education will be embraced insofar as [they] help people learn, certainly not because they make it cheaper to run an institution," Roth said. Roth added that Wesleyan's first round of Coursera classes, produced for around $15,000 apiece, have been well received.

"Some schools are spending 10 times that much, and I don't think their classes are any better," he said. Universities and colleges that prize the "subtle connections people make while learning -- and professors are a core dimension of that" -- will prosper and find ways to serve lifelong learners.

Roth said learning the possibilities of online education are important because these platforms will give institutions novel ways of providing classes, such as mixing online instruction into classroom experiences and giving students more flexibility to learn on campus or off campus.

But make no mistake: "We're going to double down on why the residential experience can be so powerful, even while experimenting with MOOCs," Roth said.

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