Saving universities in the era of MOOCs

Massive open online courses (MOOCs), despite setbacks, offer a viable model for 21st Century teaching and learning on campuses of every size.


In every school I’ve seen, teachers who want to incorporate multimedia learning objects into their courses have no choice but to produce those materials themselves.

Teachers who want to offer interactive group activities must plan and orchestrate those activities themselves. Teachers who want to explore open education resources must locate, evaluate, and plan with those materials themselves.

Teachers who want to implement frequent assessment and analytics must put such a plan in place themselves.

As teaching techniques grow more complex and the needs of students grow ever greater, we should stop and ask ourselves if “one teacher alone in a room with 30 students” is still the right way to support student learning in the 21st Century.

In a recent study of higher education STEM teachers, 63 percent said they make use of “extensive lecturing.” It seems strange that so many teachers today still fall back upon lecturing even though it’s widely known that this approach is less effective than interactive methods.

I believe the old paradigm of “one teacher to thirty students” works best when the solitary teacher can monologue to a large, silent room of students scribbling notes. Massive open online courses (MOOCS) have challenged the notion that this is the only way to organize classrooms by throwing open the virtual classroom doors to thousands of students at a time.

Universities are mostly staffed with faculty and the big xMOOC providers are splitting their workforce up to reflect the different needs of online learners.

While I think this approach isn’t for all students, it also serves as a challenge to examine how we can get maximum benefits from the tools of MOOCs. I think focused video lectures are great, especially when they’re just one part of a multimodal course design which also features high levels of interaction between students, faculty, and the LMS itself, frequent outcomes-aligned assessment, and coaching towards mastery.

But there’s the rub– can one teacher do all this work at a high level?

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