Public awareness of Massive Open Online Courses can be traced back to Khan Academy and those snazzy videos produced by Salman Khan to help tutor his cousin in math. Khan Academy was featured on 60 MInutes a year ago, but Khan’s non-profit educational website has been around since 2006 and has delivered over 240 million lessons. MOOCs are online courses aimed at the masses. They use open education resources and are generally free and do not offer academic credit. Faculty have access to materials created by experts in their discipline and can “mash them up” for their own courses. Millions of people have “enrolled” in these courses offered by distinguished colleges and universities. Coursera, a for-profit online education platform developed by two professors at Stanford University, hosts courses from a consortium of 62 universities and enrollment per class can be in the thousands. Their first three computer science courses had over 100,000 enrollment for each course.
There is minimal instructor-student interaction, and feedback is automated. Most MOOC participation can be characterized as “lurking.” The emergence of MOOCs has been associated with well-financed providers and top universities. Monetizing open education through licensing fees is starting to occur in Coursera, and transfer credit is a hot topic. Additionally, faculty are beginning to wonder why MOOCs are so celebrated in light of poor completion rates, increased incidents of plagiarism, and inconsistent quality. The University of California, Irvine offered a microeconomics class with 37,000 enrolled and fewer than 2% were actively engaged in the class. The instructor quit half-way through the 10 week session, “bothered by uninformed or superfluous responses to the questions posed in the discussion forums hobbled the serious students in their learning.”
The MOOC worshippers are excited about the learn-by-doing nature of highly interactive courses; those taught by industry experts and passionate educators, and the various instructional methods used to engage peers. The Gates Foundation has funded some MOOCs in the California Community College system, including a basic skills math and writing fundamentals MOOC. San Jose State University is offering three $150 courses on engineering via Udacity.
Many students have no idea what they are in for when they commit to an online course. And many faculty have no idea the enormous amount of time it takes to develop and teach an online course. The online frontier promises many new innovations and MOOCs are indeed an exciting option. What remains to be seen is how our students and faculty may benefit from flipping the classroom. I still strongly believe it’s about how teachers teach that influences student achievement. Stanford’s emeritus Larry Cuban said it best in his Washington Post article about MOOCs, “personal computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones—and here I would add online instruction–are vehicles for transporting instruction. They are not teaching methods. By teaching methods, I mean practices such as asking questions, giving examples, lecture, recitation, guided discussion, drill, cooperative learning, individualized instruction, simulations, tutoring, project-based learning, and innumerable variations and combinations of pedagogies.”
So how would YOU characterize MOOCs—fetish, fantasy, or our future?