Can a university dependent on convincing students and their parents to part with tuition dollars afford to participate in a movement that says online education should be free? On the other hand, can a university that wants to stay relevant afford not to? Those were the questions in the air when CIOs representing about 40 institutions gathered to discuss massive open online courses, or MOOCs, at the The Higher Education Technology Forum in San Diego, an invitation-only event organized by Consero, Information Week reports. “When I started last July, online education was the last thing on my mind,” Amherst College CIO Gayle Barton said. Amherst is a small liberal arts college in Amherst, Mass., known for small class sizes and faculty-student research collaboration. Yet after Amherst was approached first by 2U (formerly 2tor) and then Coursera, she felt responsible to investigate other options. She approached edX, the non-profit started by MIT and Harvard, that so far supports a relatively exclusive club of a dozen universities, as well as Udacity, which like Coursera is a for-profit company. 2U offers a cloud-based online education platform that allows schools to charge tuition.

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