aNewDomain.net–The buzz on Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) throughout 2012 helped make it the winner in top education trends in 2012. With MOOCs now moving across the ocean to the UK, the debate on this emerging trend continues: who does it benefit and are they a gamble?
It’s been a few years since early MOOCs and each has its own take of what an online course should look like:
Academic Room gives people access to online educational resources around the world. The main disciplines are humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, life sciences and healthcare.
Coursera, offers the largest selection with 197 courses from 33 universities in categories spanning science and technology.
edX started was an online learning experience between Harvard University and MIT and caught on. Today students can learn from the two universities’ faculty. Disciplines range from physical science, tech, computer science, and AI (artificial intelligence).
P2PU positions itself as learning for everyone, by everyone, about almost anything. The Peer 2 Peer University is a platform for people to teach and educate their peers in an open environment. Topics include social innovation, math, and education.
Udacity is simply higher education without the fees. Well-known scholars such as Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun teach at Udacity. In lieu of a grade or credit, students conduct peer review and receive a statement of accomplishment.
It there’s one thing that unites the many different forms of MOOCs it is free education for all through technology.
I talked to Charles Severance, a clinical associate professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan, about MOOCs. He teaches a class called “Internet History, Technology and Security” on Coursera to close to 40,000 students.
Not surprisingly, these classes can be hard to compare with a classroom experience. Chuck says, “the students (like me) see this as a new form with significant advantages and disadvantages that are to be explored.”
The areas more similar to a physical classroom experience that bubbled up during class were discussions around the policies for the course. Plagiarism and peer-grading were at the top of the list.
With the Internet at our finger tips, plagiarism is a significant reality of this open platform. When I asked Chuck about it he said, “Initially, there will be well-publicized and organized cheating / plagiarism cases that appear to render the certificates useless. But I think that after a time we will see that while people may try to take a short cut to getting a few pieces of paper, the real value will be when you have taken 8-10 courses over time in a related area with increasing difficulty. Folks will stop spending all their time figuring out how to cheat or game the system and start learning.”
On the other side of the MOOCs are the students. I spoke to Linda Feng, a student who took Dr. Chuck’s class. She is a working professional with a college degree who is looking for further enrichment. Her profile fits the early sample demographic of the MOOC student that was conducted by Coursera for Machine Learning, a course taught by co-founder Andrew Ng.
For Linda a mix of multimedia helped with the virtual experience. On homework—yes, there is homework—she said that “Each class had a different level of homework assignment expectation. In Dr. Chuck’s course students were able to contribute at their own level of commitment.” There’re extra credit writing assignments, too. Not enough time? Watching the lectures and doing the quizzes were well worth the effort according to Linda.
Where are MOOCs going? Chuck feels it’s too early to call, “There is no question that what we are doing is very cool—but it is very early days and we are learning rapidly.”
The real test? Can students use their MOOC certificates to advance in their career or change professions?
Based in Silicon Valley, Joy is a long time tech journalist and startup veteran. She currently serves as aNewDomain.net’s Executive Editor. Email her firstname.lastname@example.org