MOOCs: College Disruption or Enlightenment?
In the past year, top-performing universities, including MIT, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford, offered MOOCs--free, online courses available to the public, indefinitely. Until last week, students could not earn college credit from these digital courses. While thousands of students continue to take advantage of MOOCs, Cary Nelson, former president of the American Association of University Professors, told Inside HigherEd, MOOCs lack in their ability to provide interaction among faculty and students, a key aspect of student learning.
“It’s not education, and it’s not even a reliable means for credentialing people,” Nelson said. “It’s fine to put lectures online, but this plan only degrades degree programs if it plans to substitute for them.”
Margaret Soltan, an associate professor at George Washington University, agreed with Nelson, arguing that distant education providers may not provide the most efficient learning practices.
“Online is clearly inferior, even if done very well, (compared to) face-to-face education and to the social rites of growing up, which college represents for many, many people,” Soltan noted.
Though for Sebastian Thrun, president of the MOOC provider Udacity and a Google fellow, the allure of free online courses is their ability to “bring Stanford to the world.” With college attainment gaps spread disproportionately among lower-income and minority students, access to an Ivy League education is undoubtedly a transformative measure in closing the education gap.
The American Council of Education (ACE) is responding to the move toward massive open online courses with research to help answer the questions of whether MOOCs are truly an answer for democratizing higher education.
ACE President Molly Corbett explained, "MOOCs are an intriguing, innovative new approach that holds much promise for engaging students across the country and around the world, as well as for helping colleges and universities broaden their reach. But as with any new approach, there are many questions about long-term potential, and ACE is eager to help answer questions such as whether MOOCs can help raise degree completion, deepen college curricula and increase learning productivity."
Cherise Lesesne is a reporter for Campus Progress.
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