Sunday, May 13, 2012

MOOCs: Occupy Higher Ed?

May 10, 2012 / Florencia Prada

Yes, you read right: MOOCs are all the rage lately.

As trend scouters, our job at swissnex demands we keep up with latest trends in science, education, art, and innovation coming out of the Bay Area, the U.S. as well as Switzerland. In this post, I share with you one of the hottest topics in education and technology today: Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs.

Online learning has been around for some time now. One could argue whether it has delivered as expected.  What has changed is that courses nowadays are offered online to anyone with access to the internet–outside of the walled garden of universities. All you need is a computer, willingness to learn, and discipline to complete the course. However, the most important factor that has put MOOCs under the media spotlight is that they represent an alternative to the rising cost of higher education (at least in the U.S.) and the increasing debt that students acquire to gain access to higher education. The statistics are staggering:


Education at a fraction of the cost?

In the Fall of 2011, Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun offered his Artificial Intelligence course to anyone with a web connection, reaching 160,000 students from all over the world. Lectures and assignments were posted and graded online each week. Midterms and finals had strict deadlines. Students who completed the course were awarded an official Statement of Accomplishment.


Occupy higher ed?

After this successful trial, Sebastian Thrun left Stanford and founded Udacity.  I visited Udacity in early May 2012. [snip].

In conversation with David Stavens, co-founder of Udacity, the energy and thrill of breaking new ground is palpable. Humbly, he admits that there are still more questions than answers but that at Udacity they are convinced that the revolution has just started. [snip]

David shares they simply fly out a professor to Palo Alto (they have 10 on staff), he/she records the entire course, which is then edited by Udacity staff. [snip]. Automation is clearly a huge advantage when it comes to online education. Naturally, subjects such as computer science lend themselves to automated grading. Grading an English essay would be a different story. However, there is a human element involved:  Udacity counts with round the world volunteers that act as teaching assistants. This enables Udacity to offer 24/7 support to students.


Keeping up with the new

These developments have not gone unnoticed by the higher education community. Most recently, MIT and Harvard’s Distance Learning joined forces to launch edX, which will be takes over MIT’s initial MITx. [snip]

Universities are trying to figure out how to leverage the apparent effectiveness of online material for learning but are grappling with copyright issues and ultimately what it means to offer these courses online vs. the cost of actually attending the university. Questions include:

  • Will online courses replace traditional course offerings?
  • Will budget conscious schools adopt this new style to save costs and offer more accessible education to its students?
  • Is this a serious way of providing education?
  • Will it online courses replace basic introductory courses, which most professors delegate to teaching assistants anyway?
  • Will MOOCs make more sense for graduate programs or executive programs for working professionals?
  • Could this mean that eventually, all computer science student will be taking the exact same course?
  • Will MOOCs enable students from all over the world to access quality education at a fraction of the cost?
  • Will MOOCs replace university lectures all together?

There a myriad questions and no answers surrounding MOOCs but they are forcing universities to take online education more seriously. [snip].

What’s next?

Time can only tell what will the impact of MOOCs be on universities’ enrollment, finances, etc.  What is clear is that people are consuming educational content avidly and are hungry for more. This is clearly evidenced by new ventures.  Beyond the threat that these new outfits might pose to the traditional players, it is clear that they will be innovating and experimenting with online offerings to the benefit of universities. [snip].


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