Professors Embracing MOOCs
Amidst outrage over the ever-rising costs of higher education, a new trend has emerged – free online courses, or MOOCs (massive open online courses).
The new movement is bucking the tide and making higher education freely available and easily accessible to the masses.
It’s not hard to see why these types of free courses have become so popular, especially now that top-notch universities like Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California are getting in on the action.
Coursera, the largest MOOC provider to date, is partnering with over 60 universities worldwide to provide a wide range of free courses to its students. It recently surpassed 2.7 million enrollments after only one year, demonstrating just how high the demand for affordable, high-quality education is.
So why the sudden focus on making higher education easily accessible?
With neither Coursera nor the universities involved paying nor receiving any money for their efforts, it couldn’t be solely for the money. Although with the University of Washington planning to offer credit for some of its Coursera courses, revenue could certainly be around the corner.
One big appeal of MOOCs, at least for professors, is that these online courses give them the opportunity to teach thousands or even tens of thousands of students in just one class. This can be hugely appealing to a professor whose class normally only reaches between 20 to 30 people.
In-class students may also benefit from the free online course materials, and some professors are finding that their students are taking the classes online first, and then coming to class with a better idea of what they want to get out of the course.
In an interview with the New York Times, Dan Boneh, a professor at Stanford who also contributes to Coursera’s cryptography courses, mentioned that “The fact that students learn so much from the videos gives me more time to cover the topics I consider more difficult, and to go deeper.”
Another possible reason why many universities are now choosing to provide free courses is that MOOCs have the potential to be powerful marketing and branding tools, at a relatively low cost to the school.
“Think about the Stanford Artificial Intelligence course that attracted over 150,000 students from all over the world,” says Jennifer Shoop, Content Development Director at the Saylor Foundation.
“With one course, Stanford and advanced computer science coursework became synonymous with one another. There’s an obvious branding opportunity there.”
Saylor.org is another innovative learning institution that provides students with free online courses. It currently offers over 200 courses which have been compiled from open coursework from leading universities.
With regard to the recent trend of MOOCs, Shoop said; “As active participants in the open ed space for the past five years, we’re thrilled when we see new organizations entering the community.”
“We believe that the future of education is online, and think that the recent arrival of so many “heavy-weight” institutions on the MOOC scene can help us build momentum and increase access to educational opportunities for students around the world.”