To MOOC or not to MOOC…

I don’t really know what to make of MOOCs (massive open online courses). On one hand, MOOCs appear to be all the rage. Some very elite universities (Stanford, Harvard, UVa) have gotten on the MOOC bandwagon and begun offering these free online courses. Noted authors such as Thomas Friedman in The New York Times have led the media hype about MOOCs, declaring a revolution in the university. He quoted M.I.T. President L. Rafael Reif as saying of universities, “There’s a whole new world unfolding. Everyone will have to adapt.”

As an administrator who has to deal with fiscal realities and think about strategic investments, I have to wonder what the budget model is for MOOCs. How does the university that invests in MOOCs recoup its investment when students pay no tuition to take the courses? A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education reported results of the “largest-ever survey of professors who have taught MOOCs” (March 18, 2013). Not surprisingly, these professors reported that they spent a lot of time developing and teaching a MOOC, with 55% indicating that teaching a MOOC caused them to divert time from other assigned duties. Most enjoyed the experience and felt that their regular classroom duties should be reduced to allow them sufficient time to teach MOOCs.

For public institutions at least, therein lies the problem. Our budgets are predicated on the student credit hours that we generate. Since MOOCs don’t generate any, allowing professors to teach them means paying the faculty to do something that will not result in any revenue for the university. Bear in mind that faculty members do other things that do not result in direct revenue to the university, such as unfunded research and service to the university or profession. But these things presumably yield other kinds of benefits, such as enhancing the reputation of the university and contributing to the betterment of society by solving problems through research.

Kevin Carey (CHE, March 25, 2013) argued that MOOCs offer a brand exploitation strategy, allowing elite colleges to enhance their brand through technology. “Elite colleges are willing to run [MOOCs] at a loss forever, because of the good will – and thus status – they create. Free online courses…could ultimately become as important to institutional status as the traditional markers of exclusivity and scholarly prestige.” So a question for us could be, will investing faculty resources into teaching MOOCs enhance our brand as a technology-savvy College of Education? Will it return dividends such as attracting degree-seeking students and cementing our reputation as a technology leader on campus?

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7 thoughts on “To MOOC or not to MOOC…

  1. I am interested in the idea! And I am to take my first MOOC (as a student) “Today’s Blended Teacher” starting April 15. Wish me luck! I will be happy to report my reflections… If I ever finish the course… At http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/17/measuring-the-success-of-online-education/, the author argued that if 20% of students complete a MOOC it is considered to be a huge success (Markoff, Jan 17, 20013, NYT).

    In terms of posted questions–I am not sure at this time as there are too many variables involved . I would say let’s MOOC!
    How many Colleges of Education out there actually do MOOCs?

  2. I think the questions you’ve asked here are the right ones. Yes, I believe if COE offered a MOOC (simply offering a single section of an undergraduate or graduate introductory course for example), that it could, and likely would, increase the COE’s visibility and brand, and serve to attract prospective students to our degree programs. Of course, the costs of offering a section of a course would need to be carefully considered, so as not to exceed our resources in such a difficult budget climate—but what about reaching out to one of our many alumni in the field (possibly a retired faculty member) and asking for a volunteer to teach a section? The course does not necessarily have to offer actual academic credit (as we’ve seen in other examples around the country), but instead offer to prospective students a glimpse into one of the many areas within the field of education–and some of what FSU’s COE can offer.

    I have a similar uncertainty about this trend (and its shelf life), but I believe it might be worth the investment to at least proactively explore the potential benefits.

  3. Thank you for your questions, they gave me an administrative perspective on MOOCs that, as a user/student, I didn’t have. I agree with Jim Allen, a course on, for example, Coursera will increase our college visibility and brand. I also agree on the fact that, not to increase too much the workload of our professors, their involvement in the project should be only marginal, maybe as coordinators and supervisors of the work of a team. And the team could be composed by graduate students; I think that many of us, future instructional designers, would be excited to participate in a similar project. The design and administration of the MOOC could even be part of the syllabus of a course and graduate students might be able to receive credits for their participation. It would be great for us, the students, and I’m sure that the college would benefit from this experience.

  4. Thank you, Dean Driscoll, for beginning this conversation! I have a personal feeling that students will eventually expect MOOCs to be offered by Colleges as a way to exploring majors or content areas at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Higher education is a financial commitment and students want to take a “test-drive” before making such a commitment. Through offering an introduction course as a MOOC, Colleges gain visibility with prospective students and are able to demonstrate their tech-savvy side.

    However, the financial and resource issues are very real (now more than ever). I think it is important for us as a College to explore in more depth the MOOC offerings of other COEs before many any sort of final decision. Keep the conversation going!

  5. Evidently, offering a MOOC isn’t as easy as saying we’ll do it. Someone asked me the question of whether we needed permission to offer a MOOC, so I asked on up the chain of command and the answer doesn’t appear to be clear. So I am still pursuing the question and will keep you posted. Jim Klein also sent me a very interesting article that was posted in the New York Times about MOOCs, their positives and negatives from a student’s point of view.

  6. Thank you for the MOOC information. As a college professor, our university is starting to explore MOOC’s. Your points about budgetary concerns and teaching load are real issues. I have thought that MOOC’s along with all online learning models/programs may be the downfall of the traditional brick and mortar institution 20 years from now (or sooner). I also wonder what will become of the traditional doctoral level professor for many professions. So many individuals with only master degree credentials are teaching at 4-year institutions and in some master’s programs (experience only credentials). Will MOOC’s add to the minimally credentialed professoriate? I have not studied the MOOC scenario enough to have an answer.

  7. Susan raises some excellent questions. I think it’s likely that brick and mortar institutions will continue to survive because some students will always want the campus experience. College athletics are also a very powerful economic driver that I don’t see abating. But traditional colleges and universities may have to reinvent themselves somewhat to retain their market share. The question of whether MOOCs could add to the minimally credentialed professoriate is certainly something that bears watching.

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