MOOC conversation

MOOC is an anacronym for Massive Open Online Courses.  Fred and I attended the meeting of the Presidential Council at Wesleyan this past week.  The topic of conversation was around MOOCs.  It was a fascinating conversation.

Wesleyan offers six courses through Coursera.  There are more than several of the best schools in the world offering courses on Coursera.  At a glance it appears that most of the courses offered are unique ones taught at each individual school vs the standard Economics 101.  Several thousand people signed up for each individual course taught by each of the Wesleyan professors although not all end up attending.  The numbers are still huge for attendance as in something over 20,000. 

What each professor learned was consistent.  You are teaching a course online so it is different than teaching to an audience that is sitting in the same room as you are.  The lectures need to be shorter.  Videos need to be made in advance.  The currriculum is a bit different.  The tests need to be true/false vs long essays.  You can start the conversation flowing but many times the crowd takes it to another level.  Some students find each other and meet in cafes where they live to discuss the class.  I thought that was incredibly cool. 

Michael Roth, who run Wesleyan is not only teaching a course on Coursera he is also taking classes from other Universities to educate himself about MOOCs. Impressive.

The million dollar question is how will MOOCs change the undergraduate experience.  Will these courses complement the curriculum already being taught at universities and colleges.  Will there be a time when you can get a degree from Coursera because each of these classes will become accredited although not the same as the ones taught in-between the four walls of an institution.  As online education evolves what will be the repercussions for a standard undergraduate experience. 

Personally I am don't believe that taking four years of classes online is ever going to be a substitute for a four year institution where you take classes and interact with professors and other students in person.  The social experience is unique and can be essential to the growth of an individual.  It isn't for everyone and certainly the cost of an education is huge.  To take on that kind of debt for many makes one wonder do the benefits outweigh the costs. No doubt going to college is a privilege.

What is great is that through MOOCs people around the globe who do not have the ability to leave their countries or have access to a fine education can take classes and learn.  That makes for a flatter globe and education is a good thing at every level. 

My father who is a sponge for knowledge is going to love Coursera.  I just told him about it this past weekend and I am a bit concerned he might not come up for air for a year.  Wouldn't it be great if through MOOCs we can engage every young person across the world that is hungry for knowledge and through the Internet we can provide it.