Thursday, July 19, 2012

MOOCs in Brief

The biggest news in distance learning in recent years, both in immediate, eye-popping headlines and in potential long-term impact, was the series of announcements by the nation’s leading universities of their intention to offer free MOOCs – massive open online courses. (Note: Pronounced "mooks" ... For discussions of the original, more extensive concept of a MOOC, click here for Wikipedia and click here for a video.)

Their announcements rolled out in a powerful, continental media storm with booms and bolts on both coasts and key points in between, beginning in August 2011 with Stanford University’s “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course that enrolled 160,000 students, and peaking with the joint Harvard-M.I.T. press conference in May, 2012 that proclaimed their edX partnership to which each institution was committing $30 million to develop free MOOCs.

Indeed, the sudden decision in May 2012 by the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia to dismiss UVa’s highly respected president, Dr. Teresa A. Sullivan, at the height of this media storm was collateral damage due, in part, to the Board’s sense that she was not sufficiently committed to launching MOOCs at UVa and would therefor miss an important opportunity to reaffirm UVa’s position as one of the nation’s academic leaders. Following intense protests by UVa’s faculty, students, and alums, Dr. Sullivan was subsequently reinstated as UVa’s president. (See “After Leadership Crisis Fueled by Distance-Ed Debate, UVa Will Put Free Classes Online” -- Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/18/12).

While it is too soon to predict the ultimate impact of elite MOOCs, their immediate consequence was a clear and welcome shift of online courses in the public consciousness, a shift from the money-making delivery systems favored by for-profit corporations to legitimate academic platforms on which the nation’s most prestigious universities will compete for leadership in making the best and brightest instructors accessible to anyone on the planet who wants to learn … for free. (For some well-informed reservations about MOOCs as currently proposed, see  "MOOCs and Machines" -- Inside Higher Ed, 5/10/12 – with an embedded podcast of an interview with Candace Thille, Director of Carnegie-Mellon's Open Learning Initiative.)

By mid-July, 2012, the following top-tier MOOC providers were in place:
  • edX – Harvard University and M.I.T. partnership … video of press conference 
-- Students who passed MOOCs would receive certificates branded HarvardX and MITx, depending on which partner sponsored the courses

    -- The learning management system (LMS) that hosts the courses will also provide a platform for data-intensive research projects that will have the potential to make ground-breaking discoveries about how people learn, thereby enabling colleges and universities to develop more effective teaching methods.

    -- On July 24th, UC Berkeley announced that it was joining edX as a full partner that will manage the consortium of affiliated universities to be called "X University
  • On xxx University of Texas at Austin joined edX"
  • Coursera – a for-profit corporation that will manage MOOCs offered by elite universities. Its initial partners included Stanford University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan

    -- On July 17th, Coursera announced the addition of twelve new partners: University of Virginia, California Institute of Technology, Duke University, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (in Switzerland), Georgia Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Rice University, and the Universities of California at San Francisco, Edinburgh (U.K.), Illinois, Toronto and Washington.

    -- On September 24th, Coursera added sixteen more partners: Brown University, Columbia University, Emory University, Vanderbilt University, University of Maryland System, Ohio State System, Universities of Florida, California at Irvine; Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, University of British Columbia, University of London, and the University of Melbourne.
  • Udacity – a for-profit corporation founded by former professors at Stanford University that will retain well-known experts having affiliations with the nation’s top universities to develop MOOCs. (See  “Massive Courses, Sans Stanford– Inside Higher Ed, 1/24/12)

    -- Certificates will be signed by the experts who teach the courses
What You Need to Know About MOOCs = The Chronicle of Higher Ed's extensive timeline about significant news events in the development of MOOCS that it will update on a regular basis

The Big Three, at a Glance ... NYTimes summary of Coursera, edX, and Udacity
Related Notes