Will MOOCs Massively Disrupt Higher Education? - InformationWeek

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Will MOOCs Massively Disrupt Higher Education?

Even as they grow in popularity, massive open online courses prompt debates about their impact on students, business model and role in the future of education.

The MOOC industry has attracted the attention of learners, entrepreneurs, investors and universities, but it faces a complicated present and future.

Stakeholders (university presidents, MOOC executives, professors and instructors) have had to grapple with existential and thorny questions about the impact of MOOCs on students, business models and pedagogy itself.

There have been heated debates about how these platforms will change the value proposition in higher education (is a degree conferred online strictly equivalent to one earned by a student who attends the ivy-covered campus in person?), as well as important but largely unanswered questions about the effectiveness of this way of teaching, not to mention their ramifications on the socialization of students.

In fact, the vast majority of schools using MOOCs approach them as educational outreach and say they have no plans to offer degrees via MOOCs.

"The residential experience is core to having a Wesleyan degree," said Wesleyan University president Michael Roth. Weslyan just completed its first series of MOOCs with Coursera, including a literary survey course taught by Roth that enrolled 25,000 students.

Other schools are boldly forging ahead.

Take Georgia Institute of Technology, which in May announced plans to offer a new master's degree in computer science through a series of MOOCs with partner Udacity. AT&T contributed $2 million to the initiative, which it plans to use as a recruiting tool.

The degree will cost less than $7,000, a substantial discount on George Tech's standard costs ($45,000 for out-of-state students; $21,000 for Georgia residents) for the on-campus program. Like other Udacity courses, the ones developed for this program will be available for free on its website, but only tuition-paying students will get credit or have access to additional mentoring and support services. The hope of the pilot is to vastly increase the number of students accepted into the master's program, from 300 today to as many as 10,000 within three years.

As George Tech said in its FAQ about the program: "The development of massive-online educational models bring an unprecedented opportunity to extend access to high-quality education to an exponentially larger number of people, from around the world, than we can accommodate on a physical campus. Our educational mission as a public university is to explore and maximize such opportunities."

Getting all this right, while properly addressing long-range strategy questions, can be extremely tricky.

Morphing The Mission

"Online education has an identity problem," said Bonnie Stewart, a MOOC and social media researcher. Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate and lecturer in the University of Prince Edward Island's faculty of education.

Stewart said there is a wealth of learning theory around online education as the basis of bold new pedagogical models. But MOOC entrepreneurs, while well-intentioned, have focused instead on "a delivery model, on education as a product that can be scaled," she said.

According to Stewart, there's an obvious appeal of this economic narrative, given the "decline in public funding and other challenges." School administrators look to venture capital-backed, Silicon Valley companies for what she calls "tech solutionism."

Amid criticisms like these, even some MOOC executives seem to be modulating their message.

"A medium where only self-motivated, Web-savvy people sign up, and the success rate is 10%, doesn't strike me quite yet as a solution to the problems of higher education," Udacity co-founder Thrun recently told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Lately, Udacity, Coursera and EdX have been begun offering their technology and services to academic partners for use with enrolled students, a twist on the initial MOOC model of massive, free, open-to-all platforms.

In May, Coursera invited 10 public universities to use its platform for non-MOOC online courses, charging the schools both a development and per-student fee, and specifying a course-content licensing approach, with a percentage going to Coursera.

Some have noted this appears to put MOOC operators in competition with long-established learning management system (LMS) vendors like Blackboard and Desire2Learn, companies with a head start on user interface design and data analytics.

Moreover, if massive scale ceases to be the defining aspect of MOOCs, then teaching effectiveness and a capacity to carry a high percentage of students to success will be.

Unfortunately, on this score, preliminary research isn't encouraging. A February survey of MOOC instructors by the Chronicle of Higher Education found a mean completion rate of just 7.5%.

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User Rank: Apprentice
9/5/2013 | 6:56:36 PM
re: Will MOOCs Massively Disrupt Higher Education?
As a person with a recent online degree I felt the effectiveness of the instructors
during that process varied widely. There seemed to be no standards for presentation and many of the grading techniques varied with each instructors personal preferences. Online education is a great idea and I believe its time has come. The internet is finally maturing enough to make it a plausible reality.

The MOOC idea is very appealing to an individual just looking for information in a particular subject but if no degree is attainable this way MOOCs will always be relegated to a supplementary education process. I cannot imagine how
an instructor can effectively grade the works of 10,000 or more students. As with many new things standards will be the drivers for new and better processes to make these systems plausible for an accredited degree program.

Having just completed an online degree it was clear that the education system needs
some overhauls. The same basic processes that I was subject to in school forty years ago seem to be still ineffectively employed today online and off. If
anything I hope the MOOC process generates enough research in teaching
effectiveness to create better teaching processes throughout the education
systems in colleges and the elementary levels K G 12. Maybe we can get our kids and grandkids to want to go to school again.
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