Monday, June 10, 2013

What ... No Football Team?

With high school commencements still fresh in their minds, many graduates are now looking forward to college. There has been a lot of discussion in the media lately about the rising cost of a college education and whether it is still a good investment. Already many students coming out of high school are choosing to enroll in community or technical colleges which are significantly less expensive than large universities. After completing two years and satisfying most of the required core courses the students move on to the larger traditional campuses with broader course offerings to complete a degree program.

There is another option for these traditional students as well as for those already in the workforce looking to get a degree or advanced certification. This option has been gaining a lot of attention and according to many pundits, might well change the process and economics of higher education forever.

Called MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), these courses are delivered using the web or other online technologies to very large groups of students. They are highly interactive and employ traditional course materials like readings, videos and lectures. They encourage interactive user forums that help build a community for the students, professors, and TAs. The latter is important since students can participate from anywhere on earth that has internet access.

Other than using new technology, you might ask what makes a MOOC different from the correspondence course delivered by snail mail in the 1950s or the much hyped and often less than effective distance learning of ten years ago.

Perhaps most significant is the quality. Some of the most prestigious colleges and universities are embracing MOOCs. For example, Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley and the University of Queensland in Australia are part of a consortium developing and distributing courses. Closer to home you can find several MOOCs offered by UC. The course options are often as broad as can be found in any leading university’s traditional catalog.

Rather than having a lowly adjunct professor to lead the class, you will find some of the nation’s top professors in their field providing high quality lectures and coursework. Content can range from a Harvard Law School course on Copyright Law to a “The Plays of Shakespeare” offered by New York University.

There is no one economic model for MOOCs. Some schools charge tuition comparable to traditional courses while others are absolutely free. Some are free to take and charge only if you want certification after you complete the course and pass the exam.

Obviously the free model will not be sustainable but many education professionals predict that MOOCs will help to bring down the cost of higher education and allow greater participation by individuals who are left out of post-secondary opportunities due to work schedule or economics or both.


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