It’s time to redirect the conversation about MOOCs

So many exciting things are happening in higher education these days, it could make a guy’s hair fall out (see my photo at the bottom of this post). Most of the headlines have been about “massive” education and the stories may have left some people confused, or even a little worried, WCET reports.

Let’s look past the hype—and the hyperbole—and focus on the central question we should ask about any educational innovation: Are MOOCs about a better educational experience for students?  Or are they about efficiency and cost savings? Taken independently either is good and achieving both is better. But if the former is sacrificed for the latter, then I see long term systemic problems for higher education.

Massive has had a place in higher education for quite some time. It would be hard to argue that a large lecture hall of 300, 400, 500+ students is any different than a MOOC. In fact, the MOOC might be a better experience for students given the technologies used to provide feedback and connection. But a degree program comprised of MOOCs-a MOOP? This requires a bit more thought.

As part of a university system that has delivered online courses, programs and degrees for a very long time, I am troubled by what appears to be the inseparable link between online education and massive online education–that is, that “massive” is THE way to deliver online programs.  Most online degree programs are not MOOP(rograms)s. Like WSU’s Global Campus, they incorporate academic counseling to determine if the program of study is compatible with the student’s ability to succeed.

They offer robust student support services to break down the isolation that often accompanies study at a distance.

They require close student to student interaction through peer based assignments to build a sense of community. But most importantly, they need an engaged faculty inside and outside the classroom to mentor, guide, counsel and befriend students.  They’re not massive—our average course size is 27 students per course section.

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