When you live in a small college town, it’s difficult to shed the feeling that the town exists to support the university. Everywhere one goes in Charlottesville, the presence of the University of Virginia is felt. When graduation is over, the community unleashes its belt, sighs and relaxes. Summer break is our time to wander through town with ease, to walk along the grounds and to admire Mr. Jefferson’s Academical Village. We don’t expect news about the university to dominate the media at this time, which made the events of June 2012 disconcerting. The resignation of the beloved president dumbfounded everyone, while drawing national attention to the town.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, which announced Sullivan’s abrupt decision on June 10, garnered over 125 comments. Helen Dragas, the rector of the board of visitors, “specifically cited the need for a leader who would be open to changes in curriculum-delivery methods, including online learning.” My Facebook page was alight with daily status updates. Rumblings over the ethical treatment of “our community’s” president supersede those regarding the concept of “online coursework.” However, most palled in comparison to the lengthy diatribe contributed by readers, several that questioned the purpose or validity of open, online education. http://www.connectivism.ca/
I followed the local and national stories with interest, filtering through the gossip with details that were funneled to me as a university volunteer. The dust had not settled before the university’s new relationship with Coursera was announced on July 17, 2012. I’ve taken numerous graduate courses over the years, of which only one was a hybrid course and none were free. Over the last several years, I have seen advertisements on television regarding the University of Phoenix, as well as other online for profit institutions. I’ve always wondered how coursework from such institutions compared with that offered by traditional universities.The “21st Century Literacy” hybrid course, offered through Longwood University, was both rigorous and academically rewarding. An important component of my Personal Learning Network is to read articles regarding higher education. I have read journal articles during the last six months, but have not responded by submitting comments. (I will consider commenting on articles as a way in which I will become a more connected learner!)
One of the comments from the July 17, 2012 article was particularly interesting-
This individual, jspqr 4 months ago states,
Regarding such online program revenue streams: I’ve taught in a technical discipline at large state universities for about 15 years, and I’ve been teaching in a major online university in the same discipline for 2 years. I can say without reservation that many (most?) online courses in my general discipline are a course design, pedagogical, and learning assessment nightmare; and this isn’t unique to the university for which I teach, based on many discussions I’ve had with faculty in other online universities. In short, the students simply are not achieving near the same levels of learning as students in traditional universities. Their real world performance is, on average, nowhere near their peers educated in traditional universities with similar grades and degrees. (This comment received 43 “likes.”)
While this comment is certainly not positive, it is could certainly be a spring board for conversation regarding the objective for teaching and taking online courses. The concept of a MOOC was unfamiliar to me prior to the summer, of 2012, however, that didn’t deter me from the excitement over something new! I quickly dug into the Coursera website. It was easy to immerse myself in the offerings of the company. I discovered that the courses are not for the faint of heart! Many appear to be quite challenging and are created for those with an extensive background in science, mathematics and engineering. After considerable thought, I decided to enroll in two courses, one at the University of Virginia and the other at the University of Edinburgh. Both courses begin in 2013. One intrigues me as I consider the possibility of owning my own business after graduate school. The advertisement for this course, at the time that I viewed it, consisted of a written explanation of the course. There was also just one course posted, “Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses.” Since my enrollment an additional course, along with a video created by the professor, was posted to the Coursera website. While enamored with the possibility of trying something new and exciting, the question “Why“plagued me. What would cause any university teach me for “free?” Surely there must be something that the university will gain by asking professors to provide instruction for free!
I found that I wasn’t alone in my thinking. There were others who posed questions that I had about the motivation of free courseware. Consider these comments posted in response to the July 17, 2012 article in the Chronicle-
vlwyss 3 months ago “I don’t understand how the universities make money with this design….yet I know they would not do it if it were not a potential money-maker.”
observer0001 3 months ago “They don’t expect it to- this is simply a marketing ploy with some public service thrown in. It is intended to extend the reach of their brand (but not its product, since they are indeed luxury products), present them as innovators, ‘build buzz,’ and gain prestige by being part of an elite group who can throw resources at it.”The other primary audience is to US legislatures to protect their not-for-profit statuses and endowments from taxation, providing an easy to understand free outreach ‘service’ they can point to. “
tgraham13 3 months ago “The burning question is whether the overall revenue will drop precipitously as a result of MOOCs. “