Massive open online courses create opportunities

When most college students think of massive online communities, online games such as World of Warcraft probably come to mind far sooner than the educational system. But, as the cost of tuition is steadily rising, huge online learning collectives have increasingly been considered as a possible solution.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online courses that are open to all with an Internet connection. Embodying the connectivity of massive online game communities, MOOCs focus on higher education by utilizing a series of interactive supplements, including online tutorials, assessments and pre-recorded lectures.

Sites such as YouTube, TED and iTunes U are the predecessors of MOOCs. On YouTube alone, there are hundreds of thousands of instructional videos ranging from how to tie-dye a shirt, to how to finish your calculus homework.

Most of the popular and better-developed MOOCs are backed by some of the most prestigious colleges in America, such as:

· Coursera: A Stanford spinoff that has partnered with the University of Virginia, Duke University, University of Pennsylvania and University of Illinois

· edX: Harvard, MIT and Berkeley’s online collaboration to offer the best of all three institutions

· Udacity: Founded by an ex-Stanford Professor Sebastian Thrun

Working off of the same principles of self-teaching, MOOCs put the tools to learn in the hands of those who are willing to put in the time and effort, and colleges are taking notice.

US News ranks the top 25 colleges in the nation every year, and 22 of the schools on the 2013 list offer MOOCs or similar free courses.

According to Greg Ketcham, the director of academic programs for the Division of Extended Learning, Oswego State is in the exploratory stage for developing its own MOOCs.

“It really has to do with alignment, finding something that fits with the mission of the university, as well as something we are good at that we would like to highlight,” Ketcham said. “It’s a way to showcase out to the world what we can do, so whatever it is we offer, it is something that we really want to put a spotlight on that we feel we are particularly good at.”

One problem that arises for students of MOOCs, though, is that they generally do not count for credit or toward a degree. While some MOOCs have been approved for credit by the American Council of Education, the only school US News lists that offers course credit is Colorado State University, and that is only after students pay to take a course assessment.

Ketcham said that if Oswego State were to consider taking MOOCs for credit, similar course assessments would first need to be taken. Before accepting them as credit, the university would want a way to assess that the student had attained the necessary knowledge.

“SUNY as a whole is looking at ways in which you can assess what we call prior learning,” Ketcham said. “So prior learning could be something you have done outside of the university, such as a MOOC or life experience or on the job or military experience. So there’s all these things we are looking at to try to find easier ways for students with experiences and basically transform them into credits.”

If they were accepted, MOOCs could potentially become a way for students to save money by obtaining credits cheaper than through the school.

“I think it’s valuable if it’s free,” said junior and business major Gee-Gee Jung. “I like things other than my major and I think it would be nice to be able to see different professors..and to be able to take [courses] without having to pay the money.”

While students agree it’s something that Oswego State should look into, statistically most of the people who enroll in MOOCs are already in a professional field or international students. For the university level, professors at Oswego State have expressed concern with the ability of MOOCs to provide the same level of education as an on-campus course.

“Faculty are rightly concerned with the fact that you want an academic experience that is rich and as rigorous as what happens in the classroom,” Ketcham said. “So those are really important factors to make it an equivalent learning experience.”

Oswego State journalism and broadcasting professor Gary Ritzenthaler agrees, saying that the amount of learning that can take place through MOOCs compared to taking an actual course depends on what you want to learn.

“Right now there are definitely subjects that I think would work well, and there are some subjects that are going to be harder to offer online,” Ritzenthaler said. “Oswego doesn’t just want to do MOOC’s, they want something that’s going to work with their system.”

Oswego State, which primarily offers classes that are taught by a professor, would have to adjust from the face-to-face communication of traditional courses to professors possibly instructing thousands of students that they never get to see.

“People like to know that there’s a real person, a real professor that they can get in touch with when they need to,” Ketcham said. “That’s incredibly difficult when you have 10,000 or 12,000 students in a course and you’ve got one instructor.”

While MOOCs offer a lot for the academic community, there is not solidified business model, meaning that so far there is no way to generate any type of revenue. There are a few possibilities, such as

Data Mining: selling student information to employers or advertisers.

Cross or Upselling: learning materials are free for students, but more interaction such as peer-reviewing, assignment grading, or discussions are fee-based.

Tuition based: students pay the originating institution for credit.

With tuition costs already on the rise, most would think schools would shy away from offering courses to students for virtually nothing, and getting nothing in return, but there are still some key advantages to schools incorporating MOOCs in their curriculum. There’s a lot of experimentation that can take place between faculty and students with a very low risk factor, and institutions also have the opportunity to extend their brand internationally.

While MOOCs have been viewed in many instances as a possible solution to the high cost of education, Ketcham said they are more likely to serve as a supplement to the higher education system.

“It could be a part of it,” Ketcham said.“What is interesting is the fact that you could take a lecture from a really well-known physicist, who students wouldn’t have access to otherwise, and make it a part of your course. You as a professor can look and say ‘Oh, that’s a great set of lectures from MIT’ or, ‘Oh, that a great tutorial from Stanford, and I can make this a part of my class.’”

Ketcham cautioned that students should consider more than just price when they register for a MOOC, adding that it takes a certain type of student to be successful in the style of class.

“If I’m the type of person who is very self-directed and I can work through, ‘Here’s a list of directives, now go do it,’ then I’m going to be pretty successful in an online course,” Ketcham said. “So the thing to be careful about is that no one looks at it based on the costs saving basis alone.”

“SUNY as a whole is looking at ways in which you can assess what we call prior learning,” Ketcham said. “So prior learning could be something you have done outside of the university, such as a MOOC or life experience or on the job or military experience. So there’s all these things we are looking at to try to find easier ways for students with experiences and basically transform them into credits.”

If they were accepted, MOOCs could potentially become a way for students to save money by obtaining credits cheaper than through the school.

“I think it’s valuable if it’s free,” said junior and business major Gee-Gee Jung. “I like things other than my major and I think it would be nice to be able to see different professors..and to be able to take [courses] without having to pay the money.”

While students agree it’s something that Oswego State should look into, statistically most of the people who enroll in MOOCs are already in a professional field or international students. For the university level, professors at Oswego State have expressed concern with the ability of MOOCs to provide the same level of education as an on-campus course.

“Faculty are rightly concerned with the fact that you want an academic experience that is rich and as rigorous as what happens in the classroom,” Ketcham said. “So those are really important factors to make it an equivalent learning experience.”

Oswego State journalism and broadcasting professor Gary Ritzenthaler agrees, saying that the amount of learning that can take place through MOOCs compared to taking an actual course depends on what you want to learn.

“Right now there are definitely subjects that I think would work well, and there are some subjects that are going to be harder to offer online,” Ritzenthaler said. “Oswego doesn’t just want to do MOOC’s, they want something that’s going to work with their system.”

Oswego State, which primarily offers classes that are taught by a professor, would have to adjust from the face-to-face communication of traditional courses to professors possibly instructing thousands of students that they never get to see.

“People like to know that there’s a real person, a real professor that they can get in touch with when they need to,” Ketcham said. “That’s incredibly difficult when you have 10,000 or 12,000 students in a course and you’ve got one instructor.”

While MOOCs offer a lot for the academic community, there is not solidified business model, meaning that so far there is no way to generate any type of revenue. There are a few possibilities, such as:

Data Mining: selling student information to employers or advertisers.

Cross or Upselling: learning materials are free for students, but more interaction such as peer-reviewing, assignment grading, or discussions are fee-based.

Tuition based: students pay the originating institution for credit.

With tuition costs already on the rise, most would think schools would shy away from offering courses to students for virtually nothing, and getting nothing in return, but there are still some key advantages to schools incorporating MOOCs in their curriculum. There’s a lot of experimentation that can take place between faculty and students with a very low risk factor, and institutions also have the opportunity to extend their brand internationally.

While MOOCs have been viewed in many instances as a possible solution to the high cost of education, Ketcham said they are more likely to serve as a supplement to the higher education system.

“It could be a part of it,” Ketcham said.“What is interesting is the fact that you could take a lecture from a really well-known physicist, who students wouldn’t have access to otherwise, and make it a part of your course. You as a professor can look and say ‘Oh, that’s a great set of lectures from MIT’ or, ‘Oh, that a great tutorial from Stanford, and I can make this a part of my class.’”

Ketcham cautioned that students should consider more than just price when they register for a MOOC, adding that it takes a certain type of student to be successful in the style of class.

“If I’m the type of person who is very self-directed and I can work through, ‘Here’s a list of directives, now go do it,’ then I’m going to be pretty successful in an online course,” Ketcham said. “So the thing to be careful about is that no one looks at it based on the costs saving basis alone.”