Union concerned with New York MOOC expansion

A plan to enroll 100,000 New York college students in massive open online courses (MOOCs) without increasing faculty has drawn criticism from a union leader who described MOOCs as “experimental.”

SUNY was one of several university systems to sign on with Coursera.

Officials from the State University of New York (SUNY) system announced in June that schools would partner with MOOC platform Coursera to serve 100,000 students in for-credit classes.

Frederick Kowal, president of the 35,000-member United University Professions (UUP) — a union representing 35,000 academic and professional faculty — said SUNY’s agreement with Coursera represented a weakening of academic standards and a watering down of classroom lessons.

“UUP is concerned about the quality of credit-bearing MOOCs and the impact that offering them would have on teaching and learning within the SUNY system,” Kowal said in a union statement. “UUP is concerned that the overuse of MOOCs will dilute the overall quality of a SUNY education.”

Kowal, as many MOOC skeptics have pointed out, said low MOOC pass rates — which hover around 10 percent — should give SUNY officials pause. Kowal has been in talks with SUNY officials as the state system lays out plans for MOOC implementation.

Denyce Duncan Lacy, director of communications for UUP, said colleges and universities should have a much better understanding of how — and if — students learn in MOOCs before offering the massive courses for college credit.

“People should know we’re not opposed to online learning, but MOOCs are experimental, and we don’t want our students to be experimented on,” Duncan said. “We want to know more about MOOCs and their effectiveness.”

See Page 2 for details on other state university systems have signed on with Coursera…

SUNY in may became one of 10 large public university systems — including the giant state systems of New York, Tennessee, Colorado and the University of Houston –to agree to for-credit classes hosted on the Coursera platform.

Some schools who signed on with Coursera will use MOOCs to offer college prep courses, while others will develop MOOCs to be taught at institutions across an entire state.

“We noticed the vast majority of ours students were people who already had degrees and wanted to continue their education,” Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller said in an Associated Press interview.

“We really wanted to move the needle on fundamental educational problems” of access and affordability. Because Coursera does not produce its own content or administer degree courses, “you have to work within the framework of the institutions that are actually good at that,” she said.

MOOCs shouldn’t be excluded from higher education, Duncan said, but the nascent courses shouldn’t be a central part of how a group of universities teaches its curriculum.

“There is a place for the use of MOOCs for expanding learning if people are interested in simply learning certain things,” she said. “To teach major areas of study for credit in that format has not been proven to be a good educational teaching method.”

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.