Harvard, MIT online education views changing | Harvard Magazine

abernard102@gmail.com 2013-12-07


"REPORTING TO the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) at length for the first time since he was appointed vice provost for advances in learning last September, Peter K. Bol highlighted shifts in the landscape for the much-publicized massive open online courses (MOOCs). At the December 3 faculty meeting, Bol noted that: People who register for free MOOCs, like those offered on edX, differ from conventional students, and are not using them like conventional courses. Students enrolled in higher-education institutions seem disinclined to take advantage of not-for-credit MOOCs. Faculty members are increasingly interested in using edX technology to produce 'modules'—short units covering a single subject, background information, a problem set, or elements of a larger course—rather than entire courses, which entail an enormous investment of their time and energy. On the latter point, Bol, who is Carswell professor of East Asian languages and civilizations and a member of the HarvardX faculty committee, has pertinent experience. With colleague William C. Kirby, Chang professor of China studies and Spangler Family professor of business administration, he has adapted Societies of the World 12, 'China,' for online teaching through edX as SW12x; it is being taught simultaneously in the College and through the Extension School. (Bol is also a director of Harvard Magazine Inc.) His remarks came shortly after MIT’s November 21 release of the 109-page preliminary report of the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education, which advanced sweeping ideas for transforming residential teaching and learning, undergraduate study, and indeed the campus itself—all, at least to some degree, in response to the potential of online education. Together, Bol’s statement and the task-force report suggest rapid evolution in thinking about MOOCs and teaching technology in the 19 months since Harvard and MIT unveiled edX, their joint online-learning venture ... BOL BEGAN by emphasizing that Harvard’s participation in edX is driven by its educational mission. 'Without faculty,' he said, 'there can be no content and thus no HarvardX'—the program through which the University and participating faculty members offer courses for free distribution on the edX software platform. The edX venture, he emphasized, is not simply about disseminating course content; rather, it is meant to support faculty members who wish to incorporate technology innovatively in their teaching on campus: “If we cannot achieve this, we ought to reconsider the program' ... Another rationale for participating in edX and offering HarvardX courses, Bol said, is to compete in the large and growing arena of online education. That includes many public and private peer institutions, for-profit MOOC vendors like Coursera, and for-profit colleges and universities. Among the developments Bol cited: [1] New forms of for-credit online courses associated with elite institutions such as Brandeis, Notre Dame, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Emory are being deployed. FAS, as noted, confines such courses to DCE offerings. (But Harvard’s professional schools, which have extensive executive-education businesses, may well be interested in revenue-based, online, degree-oriented courses.)[2] Some MOOC enterprises are shifting from a focus on college and university courses to vocational education and tutoring. Udacity is the principal example; its Georgia Institute of Technology partnership offers an online master’s degree in computer science, with Udacity tutoring—and financial support from AT&T. (Coursera has begun offering free professional-development courses for K-12 teachers, and edX has extended its technology to the International Monetary Fund for its in-house courses.) ...  These changes in turn reflect discoveries about free MOOCs’ audiences. Bol noted that noncredit online courses, like those from edX and Coursera, are not attracting students enrolled in colleges or universities—unsurprisingly, perhaps, because those students are focused on earning credits toward their degrees. Schools in other nations, similarly, are adapting MOOCs, but not for credit in their wholly online versions; where they are used to earn course credit, the sponsoring institutions are also requiring attendance on some campus, in-person examinations, and so on.  In that context, Bol noted two further central discoveries about MOOC registrants: First, they are overwhelmingly college graduates, often with a second degree, ranging in age from their late 20s to their 60s: educated learners who want to learn more ... Second, very few initial registrants seek certificates of completion—or, for that matter, stick with an entire online course—implicitly calling into question the investment in producing full courses, as opposed to modules among which users might brows



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Date tagged:

12/07/2013, 09:07

Date published:

12/07/2013, 04:07