“You don’t become an emergency planner by watching a MOOC,” Beach said. “But it does satisfy some personal educational interest.”
Pitt offers all its MOOCs through Coursera, a California-based education company founded in 2011. It offers courses through nearly 100 universities and institutions worldwide, ranging from Duke University and Johns Hopkins to the University of Tokyo and HEC Paris.
Penn State and West Virginia University also joined Coursera in 2013.
Carnegie Mellon University offers free online courses through its Open Learning Initiative, an effort started more than a decade ago.
MOOCs raise concerns, however, among university leaders questioning their future and whether they ultimately could create confusion about higher education degrees, according to annual reports by the Babson Survey Research Group.
In 2012, 26 percent of academic leaders responded that they felt MOOCs were not sustainable. That figure climbed to 39 percent in 2013.
Half of the nearly 3,000 academic leaders surveyed in 2012 thought MOOCs were important tools for universities to learn more about online teaching. That figure fell to 44 percent in 2013.
Golden said she has heard the criticism but thinks it still is too early to know what impact MOOCs will have.
“Personally, I don’t see those fears coming to fruition,” she said. “The jury is still out on what kind of opportunities MOOCs will bring.”
Pitt is collaborating with other institutions to learn more about their MOOC experiences. Those schools include the University of North Carolina, Imperial College in London, Penn State and the University of Central Florida.
“MOOCs won’t replace Pitt courses. That is not our intention,” Golden said. “But we will learn more about how to engage students through technology. MOOCs could help improve the campus classroom experience.
“It’s very exciting.”