MOOCs: ‘Nightmare’ or a ‘tremendous opportunity’?

Massive open online course (MOOC) professors at two major universities have offered largely divergent views of how their schools’ experimentation with MOOCs went, and how the courses impact teaching an learning.

More than 48,000 people signed up for a single Penn State MOOC.

MOOC champions and advocates have gone back and forth on the potential of the online classes to expand learning opportunities and cut costs for institutions and students alike. It would be difficult, however, to find two more opposing perspectives on MOOCs than those found at Penn State University and Duke University.

Educators at Penn State, which attracted more than 300,000 students to its first batch of MOOCs, said the sheer number of MOOC students provided a never-before-seen chance for education-technology advocates to gather information about web-based learners.

“The volume of participation opens the door for tremendous research and evaluation opportunities,” Craig Weidemann, Penn State’s vice president for outreach and vice provost for online education, said in an announcement.

The popularity of Penn State’s first MOOC offerings, faculty members said, was encouraging to those who participated in the classes attended by students across the globe, even though there’s no direct educator-student interaction.

“It’s hard not to be motivated as a teacher when you see so many people who are just craving more of this stuff,” said Anthony Robinson, who taught Penn State’s Maps and the Geospatial Revolution MOOC, which had more than 48,000 students, according to the university.

Duke’s MOOC professors had a different, much more skeptical take, on the viability of MOOCs and their future in higher education. Some Duke faculty members who participated in an online learning panel in September said creating the MOOCs were more than a little time intensive.

See page 2 for why a Duke professor called preparing for MOOCs a ‘nightmare’…

“It is a nightmare just how hard it is to teach these classes,” said Thomas Robisheaux, chair of Duke’s panel of educators who in April voted against the university’s adoption of MOOC-like courses offered for credit. The vote was seen as a blow to the MOOC movement.

Robisheaux said preparing a MOOC took about 20 times longer than prepping for a traditional in-person class, according to a report in The Duke Chronicle.

Orin Starn, professor and chair of Duke’s cultural anthropology department, agreed the teaching a MOOC was far more difficult to teach than classroom-based courses.

“The whole experience was really time consuming, and really too much for me,” he said.

Some Duke educators who participated in the online learning forum said that without any student feedback, preparing and optimizing MOOC content proved much more challenging than traditional classes.

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