October 31, 2014

MOOCs move into credit-based higher education

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Kolowich, S. (2012) MOOCs for credit, Inside Higher Education, October 29

This article reports on an interesting deal signed between Coursera and Antioch University. Antioch is a well-established private university with campuses in four different states, with around 4,000 mainly adult students. Under this deal:

  • Antioch University will pay Coursera for the rights to offer MOOCs from 33 universities for credit as part of its third year undergraduate program, focusing particularly on students transferring in from community colleges (the fourth year will be on campus)
  • Antioch will charge a lower tuition fee for these courses (closer to community college fee levels than public universities’)
  • Antioch will assign a faculty member to provide learner support for Antioch-registered students in each MOOC-based course, with about 20 students per instructor (as for on-campus classes)
  • Students will take an exam at the end of each course for credit from Antioch
  • Coursera will pay rights to the universities contributing MOOC courses to Antioch.

Inside Higher Education reports:

For Coursera, which is still building its MOOC empire with venture capital, the Antioch deal is a first step toward developing a product that it can sell to colleges: “self-contained” online course platforms, complete with built-in content and assessment infrastructure.

“It’s an LMS [learning management system] that’s wrapped around a very high-quality course,” says Koller, the co-founder. “It’s not just the box, it’s a course in a box.”

Comment

Although this is starting as a pilot, it provides a possible means to reduce the costs of US university education, while still providing learner support and credits.

It is also interesting that Antioch feels it will gain prestige from using MOOCs from other universities.

However, to date the model requires the faculty member to take on the learner support in addition to their regular teaching load. My own research suggests that over the long term, learner support costs are two to three times the costs for development (which is effectively what Antioch is paying Coursera for), so whether the business model makes sense for Antioch remains to be seen. It is though a low cost way for it to get into online learning.

Furthermore, learner support costs could be greatly reduced if the course content was developed following best instructional design principles for independent online learners, rather than canned lectures. So perhaps in the long run, quality in design may become an important ‘selling’ factor in MOOCs, more important perhaps than the name of the institution canning the lectures. I sincerely hope so, but then I’m just a silly old romantic.

In this case, the courses from Antioch will not be massive, will not be open, and will not be free. So when is a MOOC not a MOOC? Nevertheless it is an interesting model, and could provide wins for Antioch, the institutions providing MOOCs, and Coursera. Whether it’s a win for the students though remains to be seen.

 

Comments

  1. Phil Hill (@PhilOnEdTech) says:

    Thanks for nice summary of key points. Your point is interesting that “learner support costs could be greatly reduced if the course content was developed following best instructional design principles for independent online learners, rather than canned lectures”. I’d like to believe this is true, and I certainly believe that the courses would be more effective if they took your advice. Could you elaborate more on this win-win approach? I really want to be convinced :}

    • Hi, Phil

      There’s a negative and a positive side here. The negative is that the learner support is greatly increased if the teaching is a formal lecture with lots of unexplained or difficult points that students struggle to grasp. This results in both students and the learner support person taking longer to work through the material. The positive side is that well designed courses should increase learner engagement, with the student doing most of the work, therefore allowing the learner support person to concentrate on fewer issues and helping those students most in need. This should allow a learner support person to handle more students.

      Lastly, if a course is going to go out to possibly hundreds of thousands of students, the marginal cost of adding an instructional designer and preparing more interactive materials is pretty minor compared to the cost of paying an elite university professor – even if the prof doesn’t get paid to do the MOOC lectures, there is a cost in lost research time, etc.

      Also, thanks, Phil, for great posts on the e-Literate site

      • Irwin DeVries says:

        Tony, thanks for your emphasis on the too-often neglected need for instructional design and more interactive materials. I couldn’t agree more. Many xMOOCs are seriously deficient in these areas. Free shouldn’t = poor quality.

  2. Dear Tony
    As you say you are ” just silly old romantic ” MIT Harvard etc can increase their online instructional deficiencies very well if you help them . They have the money and wisdom .
    And I as an engineer always pragmatic .

    1.- ANTIOCH + DUKE + uPENN is a fantistic cooperation and a very good model for HE in the USA.

    2.- I should say first that ” today coursera courses are free, and even in the future they should not be more than $ 10-50 per course . That should be the money ANTIOCH should demand from its students and pay Coursera . ”

    3.- Now assume every student at ANTIOCH gets 5 courses from DUKE, UPENN, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton . Then cost of education at ANTIOCH is reduced by 50 % . ( Don’t worry $ 10-50 to be paid to Coursera or MIT )

    4.- The quality of ANTIOCH wil increase with DUKE, MIT, Harvard, Stanford courses, more people will be willing to register with ANTIOCH

    5.- Since 50 % of the courses are online there will be created 100 % more capacity for new students .
    ANTIOCH enrollment will be 8,000 instead of 4,000 . But all 8,000 students will take 5 courses online .

    6.- ANTIOCH provide a facilitator as well. That is very good . ( Means extra cost though ) Plus credit toward a degree.
    Also a good model of BLENDED COLLEGE . 50 % online + 50 % oncampus courses

    7.- Now assume same model is accepted by all colleges of the USA
    then DUKE, uPENN, MIT, Harvard will supply online courses to 18 million students , probably each course to at least 50-100,000 students per year . That is the solution . 100 course/college x 500 colleges = 50,000 courses
    or 200 course/college x 2501 colleges = 50,000 course / year

    Results
    All tulition will be halved + capacity will go up from 18 million to 36 million + quality is up due to MIT Harvard Stanford DUKE UPENN . 60 % of the population will have a degree within 4-5 years. Obama ‘ s target .

    Tony:
    is that a dream ? May be . But I want to believe that .
    10 years ago ” I said share the online courses with other colleges in order to catch the scale ”

    Now we are about to catch . Thanks the MOOCs ( I don’t like MOOCs at all )

    • Many thanks for your comment, Muvaffak.

      I agree with you that there are many ways to reduce the costs of higher education, through the use of course sharing and open content. However, you can always reduce costs by reducing quality. Quality in education is not just about the quality of the content (which is of course essential) but also the quality of the teaching and above all the learning.

      This also depends on what kind of learning you are trying to get. There are many jobs where it’s enough to just know things and then apply them; there are other jobs (and these are increasing in knowledge-based societies) where you need to be original, show critical thinking and ‘think outside the box’. The first kind of ‘knowledge’ can be delivered efficiently on a mass scale using information transmission, automated testing, etc. The problem is though that these jobs are increasingly being replaced by either cheap labour or increasingly by machines. To develop the second kind of outcomes, learners need interaction with other learners and experts, qualitative assessment by subject experts, and a rich learning environment.

      In ‘traditional’ online courses, there is this kind of interaction; in MOOCs there is not, at least to date. The problem is that this kind of ‘transactional’ learning between student and teacher is difficult to scale up, at least on a large scale. In traditional online learning, where a faculty member designs the course and delivers it, the development cost is less than a third of the delivery costs – the time of the instructor interacting with students. This is the trade-off when you try to scale up.

      There are still ways to reduce both development costs – such as sharing at least core courses that most students need to take in a subject), and in delivery, by using supervised group work and supervised peer assessment, but there are still limits. Exceed a certain point and quality drops rapidly.

      My concern with MOOCs is that their proponents see them as a means to educate the masses for the first kind of learning, while reserving the second kind of learning for those who pay very high fees to come to their campuses. This will merely widen the inequalities that already exist. We need to find ways of making the second kind of learning available on a mass scale, but there has to be a price paid to do this, whether it is through taxes, tuition fees or a combination of both.

      • Dear Tony
        Thanks billion for your detailed response .

        1.- You and many others from your school
        ” give very high value to the interaction between students and instructor ”

        Even in a face to face classroom we do not observe very dense interaction between students and instructor.
        Many old timer onliner instructors claim that they cannot handle more than 25-30 students in an online class. I wonder how they handle 50-100 in a face to face class .

        At least in case of MIT Harvard I noticed that they have given a high value for interaction among students, instructors and peers . Through technology they improve connections between student and instructor through grouping students questions

        Also courses made by MIT and harvard are such that students do not need too much interaction between them and instructor . But I noticed many correspondence among students .

        You very well pointed out that the expensive part of online is instructor presence in the online . But do we need that that much .

        2.- You and many veteran onliner experts complain MIT Harvard did not use enough
        Instructional design
        Learning Science
        Educational technology
        Course design
        Educational specialties

        I think all these can be remedied in time with your help .

        3.- I do not think MIT and Harvard is doing this online project for money .
        They do it for research and to be more powerfull in the education technology so that that technology can help us .

        I cannot agree with you quote

        ” … while reserving the second kind of learning for those who pay very high fees to come to their campuses . ”

        I believe MIT and Harvard is doing this project not for money but social responsibility and research .

        I expect your support with MIT Harvard DUKE Stanford etc . I do not want to mention Coursera .

        With ANTIOCH project
        I think instructor problem has been solved to certain extend by facilitator . Your main objection .
        Plus that is a good model. As an engineer just want to implement overnight .

        Thanks billion again .
        Please comment

  3. ANTIOCH case is improving.
    More colleges are applying for the same model of Antioch.
    I suggest a perfect model http://www.savecolleges.blogspot.com

    How to get
    credits + degrees from MOOCS
    Best schools + least prices + degrees + doubled capacity
    At the end 60 % of the 25-65 ages will have a degree required by OBAMA by 2020 .

Trackbacks

  1. [...] announced that it is creating a new MOOC-for-credit partnership with Coursera. The key points as summarized by Tony Bates (via Inside Higher Ed article): This article reports on an interesting deal signed between Coursera [...]

  2. [...] Tony Bates summarizes: This article reports on an interesting deal signed between Coursera and Antioch University. [...]

  3. [...] Tony says: The first kind of ‘knowledge’ can be delivered efficiently on a mass scale using information transmission, automated testing, etc. The problem is though that these jobs are increasingly being replaced by either cheap labour or increasingly by machines. To develop the second kind of outcomes, learners need interaction with other learners and experts, qualitative assessment by subject experts, and a rich learning environment. [...]

  4. [...] Tony says: My concern with MOOCs is that their proponents see them as a means to educate the masses for the first kind of learning, while reserving the second kind of learning for those who pay very high fees to come to their campuses. This will merely widen the inequalities that already exist. We need to find ways of making the second kind of learning available on a mass scale, but there has to be a price paid to do this, whether it is through taxes, tuition fees or a combination of both. [...]

  5. [...] article on Tony Bates’ blog – http://www.tonybates.ca/2012/10/29/moocs-move-into-credit-based-higher-educat… Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading… Leave a [...]

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