Massive Open Opportunity: Supporting MOOCs in Public and Academic Libraries
"If you’re an academic librarian, you’re probably already awash, at least peripherally, in news about MOOCs—massive open online courses have been touted as the next big thing in higher ed since they burst on the scene about a year ago. If you’re a public librarian, on the other hand, you may not even have heard of them. Yet MOOCs are bringing unprecedented challenges and opportunities to both kinds of libraries already, and they’re only going to grow ... What is a MOOC’ is still very much a matter of debate ... The major MOOC providers, so far, are Coursera, EdX, and Udacity. Courses are taught by faculty from established colleges and universities—usually fairly high-ranking and select ones. Coursera, a for-profit entity, is by far the most prolific, with 341 classes. Udacity offers 22, mostly in STEM disciplines, while EdX, a not-for-profit, is currently accepting sign-ups for 32. In addition, individual colleges offer MOOCs of their own. As the concept matures, expands, and is tinkered with, the issue of where 'traditional' online education ends and the MOOC begins becomes murkier. Michael Stephens, an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science at San José State University (SJSU), CA, for example, is offering a MOOC pilot that is limited to 500 students—about the size of a large lecture hall. Does that count as massive? Is a class truly 'open' if it’s not free? The idea that education from formerly elite institutions would now be open to all—or at least all who speak English, the language in which most classes are offered, and have access to a computer and broadband—is part of what helped MOOCs capture the popular imagination ... There are multiple potential roles for libraries in the MOOC development, support, assessment, and preservation process, some of which have been more fully explored than others in the few months since Coursera and EdX began rolling out offerings ... One major question is whether it is the academic library of the host institution or the public library of which the patron is a member that will end up supporting these students’ efforts—or whether MOOCs will require a deeper level of cooperation between public and academic librarians. Unless the MOOCs provide very clear links on how to reach out to the academic library directly through the course provider software (and maybe even if they do), the public library and librarian whom they already know and feel entitled to use are likely to be the go-to entry point for many. As such, public reference librarians might suddenly find themselves dealing with a raft of specialized academic questions on top of their usual workload, without access to the collection resources or subject specialists that academic librarians rely on to answer them. In addition, public libraries will find themselves providing a far more basic service: access to equipment to take the courses at all. Public libraries remain a key player in redressing the digital divide [PDF] in America ..."