What modularity means for MOOCs

Reporting to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) at length for the first time since he was appointed vice provost for advances in learning last September, Peter K. Bol highlighted shifts in the landscape for the much-publicized massive open online courses (MOOCs), Harvard Magazine reports.

At the December 3 faculty meeting, Bol noted that:

  • People who register for free MOOCs, like those offered on edX, differ from conventional students, and are not using them like conventional courses.
  • Students enrolled in higher-education institutions seem disinclined to take advantage of not-for-credit MOOCs.
  • Faculty members are increasingly interested in using edX technology to produce “modules”—short units covering a single subject, background information, a problem set, or elements of a larger course—rather than entire courses, which entail an enormous investment of their time and energy.

On the latter point, Bol, who is Carswell professor of East Asian languages and civilizations and a member of the HarvardX faculty committee, has pertinent experience.

His remarks came shortly after MIT’s November 21 release of the 109-page preliminary report of the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education, which advanced sweeping ideas for transforming residential teaching and learning, undergraduate study, and indeed the campus itself—all, at least to some degree, in response to the potential of online education.

Together, Bol’s statement and the task-force report suggest rapid evolution in thinking about MOOCs and teaching technology in the 19 months since Harvard and MIT unveiled edX, their joint online-learning venture.

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