Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A new MOOC . . .

Do you know what a MOOC is? I learned about what it is when I first became interested in following the growth of free online college classes at Stanford University. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses. I read about the newest site unveiled today  in this Open Culture post where MIT and Harvard are teaming up to create a new non-profit venture, EDX. Each University is providing $30 million in start-up funding for the undertaking.

If the courses are free why is there this growing movement? What are the incentives for the University? From a FAQ on the website we are told the reasons.

Why are MIT and Harvard doing this?

To improve education on campus and around the world:

• On campus, edX research will enhance our understanding of how students learn and how technologies can best be used as part of our larger efforts to improve teaching and learning.

• Beyond our campuses, edX will expand access to education, allow for certificates of mastery to be earned by able learners, and make the open-source platform available to other institutions.

I’m wondering what the role of the Certificate of Mastery plays in the reasons for the new partnership. Though the classes are free, a certificate is possible upon successful completion of the online class. A fee, not yet determined, will be required for the Certificate of Mastery so there is a revenue possibility in this venture. Will the certificates have the same impact on employers as do college classes? Will taking a series of very focused classes better position a person for a job in a specific field than the person taking the traditional college experience? I believe that over time these free online classes will open doors for those looking for jobs in specific fields and that this will become an alternative to the traditional college degree. Factoring in the costs of the traditional program will make this option enticing to many who do not want to graduate with thousands of dollars in debt.

Below, is the news conference where the new venture was announced.

Video streaming by Ustream

The more important question for us to consider is how long before these same opportunities take root in the K-12 world? There are currently options, but they are fee based. Will someone or a group see the potential for students and families paying at the completion of a course of study for a diploma or certificate of mastery? Will colleges accept it? That is more difficult for me to project because of the need to meet state graduation requirements, but it does reinforce for me the need to provide young people with options other than the seat time based program currently the norm in public schools.

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