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MOOCs Are Here To Stay, Profs Say

Professors who teach massive open online courses predict they will bring down the cost of higher education -- but not all agree on whether MOOCs should offer credits.

Michael Fitzgerald

March 19, 2013

3 Min Read

12 Open Educational Resources: From Khan to MIT

12 Open Educational Resources: From Khan to MIT

12 Open Educational Resources: From Khan to MIT (click image for slideshow)

Do those who teach MOOCs think it's worth it? A new survey indicates the answer is a qualified yes.

The Chronicle of Higher Education attempted to survey all 184 college professors who have taught a MOOC to date. It got responses from 103 of the professors and published the data here.

The Chronicle asked, "What is it like to teach 10,000 or more students at once, and does it really work?"

The answer is that it can work, though the median class size reported was a mere 2,600. And while most of the professors surveyed are not economists, they expect that MOOCs will work well enough to reduce the cost of attending college. A full 64 percent of respondents said they thought MOOCs would at least marginally reduce the cost of getting a degree from the institutions where they teach. When asked the broader question of whether MOOCs will lower the costs of college overall, 86 percent said yes, apparently because they expect that even if their institutions may not offer credit for their courses, others will.

[ MOOCs are generating plenty of buzz, but they might not be the answer for all students. Read MOOCs: Valuable Innovation Or Grand Diversion? ]

Harvard or Humboldt State?

There's a divergence between top universities and those generally perceived as lesser. That split -- 68 percent think students at their own schools will save money, but 86 percent think students overall will save money -- offers a look at the divide within education: Those who run top universities believe their courses are better than courses taught at supposedly lesser schools. (NEA Today offers a more skeptical view).

The Chronicle's Steve Kolowich cautioned that the survey was not scientific, pointing out that the people who are teaching MOOCs are probably not a representative sample of all teachers. "[It could be that] the most enthusiastic of the MOOC professors were the likeliest to complete the survey," he explained. "These early adopters of MOOCs have overwhelmingly volunteered to try them -- only 15 percent of respondents said they taught a MOOC at the behest of a superior -- so the deck was somewhat stacked with true believers." He also noted that those who taught MOOCs that did not succeed did not respond to the survey.

On the other hand, the survey focused primarily on well-known professors at elite institutions, who are often critics of online education, so their enthusiasm may signal a shift. An annual Babson Survey Research Group survey found that university administrators say only about 30 percent of faculty "accept the value and legitimacy of online education." That's a drop from 2004.

A common criticism of MOOCs is that they have very low completion rates -- the elite professors reported that on average only 7.5% of their students complete their classes. Another downside is the time it takes to create a MOOC: Professors said they averaged 100 hours of preparation time. Professors also reported spending 8 to 10 hours a week on their MOOC once class started, largely in discussion forums.

The Chronicle created a slideshow of some of the professors' responses. A notable one comes from Nicholas M. Llewellyn at the University of Illinois: "MOOCs . . . may simply be a new evolution of borrowing a textbook from the library."

See the full survey and its results here.

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About the Author(s)

Michael Fitzgerald


Michael Fitzgerald writes about the power of ideas and the people who bring them to bear on business, technology and culture.

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