Massive Online Open Course – So, what are they anyway ??

Re posted from OnlineColleges.net December 9, 2012

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, attract students around the world thanks to their relative cost-effectiveness and heightened accessibility for individuals with varying needs precluding enrollment in more traditional higher ed outlets. There’s even been a MOOC about MOOCS (how meta!). Offerings vary from website to website, of course, but the one thing they hold in common is a blend of (free or inexpensive) open source materials and online classes involving a large number of participants. By “large number,” we mean some of these wind up with roll sheets in the hundreds, if not thousands. Seeing as how some world-class institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Yale University, Harvard University, and plenty more turn toward the initiative — and others like it — students who find themselves taking part receive an amazing education. Time’s Kayla Webly clicked into thecurrent demographics of MOOC juggernaut Coursera and noted more than a staggering 1 million-and-counting users representing more than 190 nations taking advantage of their qualified offerings.

Probably the biggest news story involving MOOCs that popped up this year involves their trotting toward even more mainstream acceptance. In September, Colorado State University began accepting Udacity classes for credit. As per its agreement with the upstart, one of the available computer science courses counts as the same amount of hours and credits as a brick-and-mortar equivalent offered through CSU. Meanwhile, Antioch University and Coursera struck a similar deal in October, with faculty members themselves teaching the online classes. The school cites its commitment to emerging technology and ensuring greater accessibility to students with temporal or fiscal roadblocks when it comes to traditional classroom structures. Successful implementation on both fronts could very well see more and more colleges and universities accepting the movement as a viable option. And with MOOCs and open courseware sites like edX now proctoring exams, the ability to assess knowledge retention at the conclusion of a class only perpetuates the perspective of their academic legitimacy.

Another positive step for overall MOOC love comes with the increase in available grants. Most notably, the $3 million proffered by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation toward research and development perfecting the roughly 5-year-old movement. So far, the benefitting institutions include the American Council of Education, University of Maryland, Ithaka S + R (in conjunction with the former), and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. All of these will put the money toward the strengths and weaknesses of incorporating MOOC sensibilities into traditional colleges and universities, particularly when it comes to effectively engaging students and ensuring retention once everything wraps.

Despite these largely positive trends, MOOCs still have a long way to go before they receive a fully fuzzy embrace by the education community. Even at MIT, one of the leading academic voices in transforming the way the world approaches learning through technology (of course), queries published this year still question their efficacy. Not every participating professor necessarily understands how to handle such a significantly giant influx of students, as well as all the hardware and software essential to keeping everything running. At the same time, though, the school has also issued some hyperbolic statements touting MOOCs as “the most important education technology in 200 years,” so who knows. Both articles illustrate the rather obvious conclusion we know you’ve obviously reached by this point. MOOCs have come a long way, baby. But they also still have a long way to go as well. None of us know what shapes they’ll evolve (or devolve, as it were) into over time. While things seem positive as of 2012, a year so often touted as the turning point in overarching warmth toward all things MOOCy, this reverse apocalypse might still end up hearing hoofbeats. We’ll see.

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