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Hopes, Worries Abound For Free Online College Courses
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On-line education is nothing new for colleges and universities. It’s been a way for colleges to open their campuses and generate revenue.
But over the past 12 months, more and more colleges have started to open up their on-line offerings to anyone for no charge.
They’re commonly referred to as MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses.
“I hate the acronym actually so you can quote me on that one,” says Wayne Carlson, Dean of Students at Ohio State University.
Although Carlson is not a fan of the acronym, he is pretty excited about the technology. MOOC basically refers to classes that are put online, available to anyone in the world. They don’t count for credit, but they are free.
Ohio State just teamed up with Coursera, a tech company that is one of the biggest MOOC providers, an effort headed by Carlson.
MOOC and the emerging technology are really transformational. They have the ability to really disrupt the way we do our business. And as a business, if we don’t pay attention to those disruptive processes we’re going to lose in the long run.
Disruptive because many in the higher ed community worry that unless they’re careful, universities will go the way of newspapers and the music industry: give their product away for free online and lose customers in the process.
“There really is no business model present in these MOOC’s yet because nobody is charging anything. There is no revenue to split," Carlson says.
While the content and lectures are traditional, the learning process is not.
Sometimes MOOC courses give tests, but often there is no assessment of what a student learns. Often tens of thousands of students start a course, but many don’t finish.
At COSI, the science museum in Columbus, OSU Pharmacy professor Nicole Kwiek is worried about all that big picture stuff, but she’s more nervous about gearing up to teach her own massive open online course next summer.
“I’m excited to see and adapt my content knowledge to this huge audience and people who have never been able to take a pharmacology class in their lives or may not see the potential of science in their own lives or why it’s important now may see an application on why it’s important and say ‘huh, now I understand,'" Kwiek says.
Kweik works in the Generation Rx lab at COSI, which teaches visitors about the potential dangers of prescription drugs. Her class will be about the same thing.
It won’t start for another 7 months, but she’s already getting emails from potential students as far away as New Zealand and Arizona.
But using technology in college classrooms is nothing new.
Back on the Ohio State campus, chemistry professor Matthew Stoltzfus, aka Dr. Fus is quizzing his students on last night’s lecture.
Stolzfus has been using what’s called the inverted classroom model for a couple years now. Inverted classes are ones in which students watch lectures at home, and do homework in class. Stolzfus posts his lectures online, and spends classroom time answering questions and helping students workout problems.
Freshman Adam Bross admits he doesn’t watch every lecture.
Not all of them. But a good amount. It’s hard to find time and willpower and watch every single one. Like earlier in the year I watched less, now I try to watch more now that I don’t know it.
Stoltzfus knows that, but it doesn’t bother him.
“Everybody thinks videos are going to ruin education. Well I would point across the street here to the chemistry library across the street, we have book on books on books on all of these chemistry topics. The content was out there before; we’re just putting it in a different format,” Stoltzfus says.
Dartmouth professor and higher ed blogger Joshua Kim has been monitoring the MOOC movement for a while.
He says MOOC’s have a lot of promise, but he’s full of reservations.
I do not think that MOOC’s will be the solution to the very real issues and problems of rising costs, unequal quality and limited access to higher education. MOOC’s might be part of the solution but they are not the solution. So I worry that they are being overhyped and oversold.
MOOC’s sound great. But even its biggest cheerleaders have concerns.
Here’s Wayne Carlson of Ohio State again.
“It’s a very utopian world where you want knowledge for knowledge sake.”
But the problem with utopian ideas?
They don’t scale to the real world.
Employers want to see how you did in that course, universities want to make money, students want to get credit for the classes they take, and professors don’t want to see their jobs outsourced to computers.