What’s a MOOC? Hint: Georgia Tech Already Has One

By Eric Wearne

Eric Wearne, Senior Fellow, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Massively Open Online Courses (“MOOCs”) are a growing trend in higher education.  According to Educause’s “7 Things you Should Know About MOOCs,” they are simply “a model for delivering learning content online to virtually any person—with no limit on attendance—who wants to take the course.”

Sometimes these courses are attached to colleges and offer credit, but often they are free to anyone who wants to “attend” and learn the content, usually at the student’s own pace.  To give just one example, Georgia Tech runs a MOOC focused on instructional technology, which currently includes 31 weeks of content, is free, and can be accessed whenever learners have the time.

Multiple recent projects have explored higher education’s reaction to MOOCs.  Last week Inside Higher Education published the results of a study titled “Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education, 2012,” which reported that while 80 percent of academic technology administrators had “more excitement than fear” about the growth on online education, 58 percent of faculty members said they had “more fear than excitement.”

Maybe it’s not surprising that technologists were more excited than the faculty. Breakdowns by type of faculty members showed that adjuncts and those who already taught online were more positive about online learning than were faculty who only taught in the classroom.  Overall, the mood according to the study is that while MOOCs are lower-quality than live instruction, and won’t take over education, they are likely here to stay.

In a more positive vein, a recent webinar sponsored by Sonic Foundry, a private technology company, and moderated by Kenneth Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, discussed these issues.  The webinar’s title is “A Practical Response to MOOCs,” and the discussion, featuring Pamela Havice from Clemson University, did give practical advice regarding how to improve pedagogy through MOOCs.

Such advice included giving “short, rich media lectures,” (as opposed to simply filling time, as often happens in many classes now), using class time to “ask more engaging questions in the face-to-face classroom environment (since students will have already watched the formal lecture online), and encouraging students to start, replay and take notes on the lecture at their own pace.

What is the next stage for MOOCs?  Maybe the best-known current set of MOOCs, run byUdacity, give a hint.  Udacity has recently set up a partnership with testing giant Pearson.  Pearson will open some of their 4,000 VUE testing centers for Udacity students to take assessments to certify their skills (for a fee).  A full suite of Udacity courses, leading to a degree and certified through a battery of tests, at a much lower cost than a traditional college education, could certainly prove to be a threat to some traditional institutions.

Could MOOCs work in K-12?  It’s possible; Gwinnett County already has a full-time online school.  While technically not a MOOC…it could be turned into one.  As a charter school, it is only open to students residing in Gwinnett County.  But from a technology standpoint, there’s little stopping students located anywhere in the world from obtaining a GCPS education.

(Eric Wearne is a Georgia Public Policy Foundation Senior Fellow and Assistant Professor at the Georgia Gwinnett College School of Education.  Previously he was Deputy Director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.)

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