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Jan 3 2013
Massive Open Online Courses
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Guest blog by:
David Shields
Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

What are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?
Technology and educational delivery methods keeps evolving and changing. You might have heard about MOOCs. Massive Open Online Courses are extremely new, most having begun in 2012, yet they have received tremendous media coverage. These online courses usually cover topics in computer science, science, math and other technical topics. They are essentially machine-driven, in that the students usually have no human interaction with the offering organization, although some students may form study teams. Even the grading is done by computer. Currently, no college credit is being granted by the providing organizations, although some colleges are beginning to grant credit for successful completion.

Who offers these MOOCs? How are they being used?
MOOCs can be offered by both not-for-profit and for-profit organizations.  Among the not-for-profits, edX is probably the best known. Originally formed by Harvard and MIT, with each institution investing $30 million, the University of California – Berkeley and the University of Texas – Austin have recently joined the roster. As of November, there were seven courses being offered, with 155,000 students enrolled.  Recently, they have announced a partnership with Cengage Learning, an educational publisher. 

Another well-known not-for-profit MOOC organization is the Khan Academy, which was originally formed to provide online math tutoring for Salman Khan’s high school-age niece in 2011. It now offers over 3,500 videos, mostly on science and math topics, but increasingly also in humanities. The Khan Academy introduced the “flipped” concept, wherein lectures are online content and students in the classroom work in teams. The Khan Academy began as a self-funding venture, but has since received significant investment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

Two well-known for-profit organizations are Coursera and Udacity. Both were started in January 2012 by former Stanford professors of computer science. Coursera offers about 200 courses from 36 partner universities (including the University of Michigan) in a wide range of subjects, and is backed by $22 million from venture capitalists. They claim 1.5 million enrollees. Udacity offers 18 courses in computer science, claims 739,000 enrollees, and was started with $5 million in seed funding. Unlike Coursera, Udacity contracts individually with professors, rather than affiliating with universities.

What is Walsh doing?
At Walsh, we’re continuously evaluating the way our online courses are delivered.  Specifically, we are currently in the process of adapting the “flipped” approach, as we design our 2 hours in-class and 2 hours online courses which are blended. Unlike the majority of MOOC organizations, Walsh continues to offer accredited online courses that can be applied to degree programs.

The MOOC concept has significant implications for the future of education.  I’ll discuss that in our next issue.

What is your opinion of machine-driven online courses? 

How do you think MOOCs could impact the value of your education?


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