Measured strictly by size, the University of Florida’s recent Fundamentals of Human Nutrition class was a resounding success. The class, offered this past spring, was UF’s first foray into the online trend of massive open online courses, or MOOCs.
The class was open to anyone interested, from around the world, and more than 69,000 students signed up. For comparison purposes, UF as a university has a total enrollment of about 50,000 a year. In other ways, though, UF’s MOOC — and the track record of MOOCs in general — is less impressive.
With the courses generally offered free of charge (hence the “open” part of their title) some inevitably sign up simply out of curiosity, or because it allows them to listen to the lectures of big-name professors at far-away schools such as Harvard or MIT.
Students often have no real intention of doing the work. Completion rates are generally abysmal, with more than 90 percent of students dropping out. At UF, tens of thousands of students registered but didn’t even watch one class presentation.
Also, if stadium-sized online classes are indeed a glimpse into the future of higher education (and many have suggested they are), how are universities supposed to stay financially afloat when they’re giving away their product for free?
Another issue: MOOCs usually don’t include any college credit, so how useful can they be for students who want a credential that is recognized and valued by employers?
The ongoing debate over MOOCs is a microcosm of America’s higher education industry, which is now at an internet-created crossroads.