Liberal arts colleges: it’s time to join the MOOC conversation

Online courses are no longer solely synonymous with for-profit, community and large state colleges. MOOCs, traditionally defined as Massive Open Online Courses, serve as a model for delivering free learning content to anyone who wishes to enroll, The Huffington Post reports.

Since their breakthrough in 2012, MOOCs have summoned a sense of urgency for institutions deciding whether to assimilate or differentiate.

The aftermath of rapid adoption at large, elite institutions and flagship state schools is the growing myth that MOOCs will threaten traditional liberal arts colleges. The original MOOC platform, however, was designed to deliver engaged learning activities found at the heart of these small institutions. MOOCs can bring the best traditional liberal arts instruction in direct dialogue with fresh ideas from students across the globe if carefully tied to institutional goals.

Last December, Wellesley College announced its first course offerings with edX, making it the first liberal arts college to offer MOOCs. Will other small institutions join the conversation?

Although MOOCs could serve instructional goals in numerous ways, four integrative models resolve tensions between tradition and innovation: 1) a closed network with peer institutions 2) community engagement programs 3) student-led independent research with a supervising professor; and 4) summer programs for remediation and youth enrichment.

An online collaboration among faculty from two or three campuses could expand social, professional and educational opportunities for their enrolled students. Examples of this model, such as those consortia partnering with 2U, avoid concerns over awarding credit due to the inherent peer oversight and involvement.

… MOOCs, as upper-level specialty courses, provide students with more educational opportunities than most small institutions are able to offer, while still falling under the guidance of a supervising professor.

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