Monday, July 8, 2013

A MOOC Adrift?

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports today in "A University's Offer of Credit for a MOOC Gets No Takers" that the Colorado State University's Global Campus offered a singular MOOC-for-credit in the subject area of computer science last fall at a dramatically discounted rate ($89 proctor fee, as opposed to $1,050 for a three-credit hour course tuition rate) and they are mystified as to why no one registered for the course!

Some might be tempted to sound the alarms and declare MOOCs dead even before they've had a chance to integrate themselves into mainstream education. But not so fast!

As the article fairly states,
The offer applied to only a single MOOC, in computer science, and the credits might be useful only to students who intended to finish their degrees at Global Campus.
Why would learners sign up for a singular MOOC if they are already midstream with a degree and a course credit system that they can count on? If the credit for the MOOC can't/won't transfer to another institution and students are already set in a degree-seeking academic structure (even in an online context), what's the appeal to that specific set of learners? Is this the right audience of learners for us to view as a litmus for an entire movement? MOOCs-for-credit have the potential to dissolve the walls that limit access to higher education to an entirely new demographic of learners, and yet we're testing their viability in the context of online degree programs without offering an entire degree in the MOOC-for-credit format.

There are other clues about the slow take-off of MOOCs-for-credit as cited by the director of LearningCounts, who shares her disappointment with the lack of interest shown by learners in their program. "The council has not yet advertised its services directly to MOOC students," noted Chari Leader Kelley. With no marketing to the most likely learners, why are expectations set so high?

Is it possible that we're still holding the reins a little too tightly? The market for MOOC learning is there, but its needs must be more comprehensively assessed and addressed if we expect the movement to take off as quickly as many hope. It's possible that our water-testing is TOO tentative if we are watching a singular MOOC-for-credit from one university for guidance on how to direct an entire movement with many complex layers of logistical and operational considerations for both learners and institutions. The context of the MOOC experience doesn't seem to be taken into consideration if we are expecting more traditional learners already enrolled in degree programs to take the lead with MOOCs-for-credit with a singular course in their existing environment. What if those MOOCs were marketed to institutions, departments or faculty, rather than the learners? What if transfer credit agreements were made between MOOC providers and traditional universities for the provision of online content to the universities' learners able to customize their educational experiences with a global course catalog from which to choose? What if faculty at traditional universities integrated MOOCs into course curricula both online and in the classroom? The traditional university can provide the learner the facilitated, SME-driven curatorial educational experience by providing personal faculty support to learners as needed and faculty are freed up to teach online as well as in the classroom with academic technology tools otherwise likely not affordable or otherwise within their reach.
However, when it comes to granting credit to students who take a free-floating MOOC instead of a tuition-based course at a traditional university, institutions remain largely in control of what courses they will abide and how many credits they will allow students to transfer in from such sources.
The American Council on Education, which advises college presidents on policy, has evaluated eight MOOCs—four from Coursera and four from Udacity—and recommended to its members that students who pass those courses should be awarded transfer credits. It remains to be seen how many of those colleges will take the council's advice.

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