What You’ll Find at MOOCS.com
In a few short years, the popularity of MOOCs has exploded. MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, enable tens of thousands of students to enroll in courses taught by some of the most talented professors and researchers in the world. MOOCs promise to bring an education that was once out of reach to millions to anyone with an Internet connection. This blog is one source to get constant, new information about MOOCs. We don’t just summarize what’s in the newspapers. We add context and analysis.
On this blog we publish the latest news about MOOCs. We cover all dimensions of MOOCs. We discuss how they are being used in the classroom. We include articles about how some MOOCs are becoming accredited. There are stories about how MOOCs are evolving into different forms and challenging traditional forms of education and learning. We also cover the MOOC “industry” in all of its iterations and versions. We post about the current state of MOOC providers, what challenges they are facing, and the future holds for them.
If it’s about MOOCs, you’ll find it here.
A Brief History
MOOCs have a very short history. They grew out of the convergence of distance education and the power of the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Dave Cornier of the University of Prince Edward Island and Senior Research Fellow Bryan Alexander coined the term in 2008 for their course, “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge,” which consisted of 25 paying students and 2200 online students that enrolled for free.
MOOCs really took off in the US as several Stanford University professors started offering their courses online. Sebastian Thrun offered Introduction to Artificial Intelligence online, followed by Professors Andrew Ng and Jennifer Widom. Thrun would go on to found Udacity. Andrew Ng, together with Daphne Koller, would found one of the largest MOOC providers today, Coursera. Coursera, Udacity and other companies are for-profit ventures. They fully encapsulate the idea of social entrepreneurship, companies producing solutions to solve intractable social problems while still making a profit.
Observing the popularity of online courses and seeking new revenue streams, universities followed by creating their own non-profit versions of online class offerings. MIT followed by forming a non-profit consortium of universities offering their courses online through edX. Many other universities either partnered with Coursera, joined the edX consortium or offered MOOCs through their own online platform or portal. Udacity, another major company in the sector, has partnered with specific universities to offer courses that are part of an accredited program. Udacity partnered with San Jose State to offer SJSU courses online, and, famously, the results were less than stellar.
There are other companies that follow alternative business models or offer educational content differently. For example, Khan Academy offers online tutorials. Codecademy offers online courses in how to code. Udemy allows anyone to host their own courses, some of which are free while others cost hundreds of dollars. MOOCs are just one segment of a growing industry of bringing together technology, learning and the Internet. They are all part of a growing industry known as “EdTech” that some say is “disrupting” higher education and other educational markets.
The technology for MOOC is based on simple open Internet platforms. Most MOOCs are delivered through online videos. They require the cooperation of many people, including videographers, instructional designers, IT specialists and platform specialists. Altogether these courses require far more labor to produce than a simple course at a university, which could be one professor and perhaps a few teaching assistants, reaching 100-300 student maximum. Yet, once produced, their scale is immense. A single professor can reach thousands of students at once.
MOOCs also depends on having access to a reliable high-speed Internet connection and an Internet browser that allows the sharing of media/content. Some companies, like Coursera, commitment themselves to their own proprietary platforms for MOOC delivery. University-run consortia are developing open-source platforms that anyone can develop on.
Because of the power of today’s servers, a virtually unlimited number of people can “enroll” in a course. Most courses involve professors or instructors speaking before a camera and giving a lecture. Animation or PowerPoint slides follow. The level of sophistication of instruction varies.
The key difference between MOOCs and a simple educational video is that MOOCs usually have some form of assessment. There are essentially two ways assessment happens. One is the completion of quizzes and multiple choice tests. Another is peer assessment, especially for writing activities. Given the thousands of students that sign up for these courses, grading by the instructor is not practical. Peer assessment helps alleviate that problem. But peer assessment is not without controversy. There are questions about the quality of grading and how helpful it really is.
The explosion of MOOCs onto the educational scene has certainly not been without controversy. The claim that MOOCs can solve endemic problems with the secondary education system in the United States. Living up that promise is being challenged in many circles. Some say they will never live up to their hype. Others see them as an actual danger to the ability to offer an affordable college or university education to the public.
Here are just a list of just some of the critiques in summary:
MOOCs threaten the current model of higher education in a negative way. Contrary to their claims, the for-profit model inevitably leads to charging fees for specific services that will price more and more students out the market.
MOOCs also challenge the model of universal public education. If people can obtain an education through private sources, then it undermines that model that secondary education should be made available to all at a reasonable price. While there are substantial problems with the status quo, relying on private MOOCs will only exacerbate the problems of access, if not make it worse.