UI advisory group offers recommendations on MOOCs

URBANA — An advisory group to the chancellor has recommended the University of Illinois continue offering massive, open online courses, or MOOCs, with the California company Coursera, but the campus should also explore other options it could offer either on its own or with other partners.

The group of over 20 faculty and administrators has been meeting since spring to consider the UI's strategy for MOOCs, the fast-moving phenomenon viewed by many as a disrupter in the world of higher education.

The Urbana campus announced in July 2012 that it would offer some MOOCs through an agreement with Coursera. Since then, academics have been weighing the university's relationship with the for-profit company, policy implications (such as on student privacy and intellectual copyright) and ideas for the future.

In online education, there are traditional online courses in which students (typically numbering between 50 and 500) take for-credit courses, pay full tuition and frequently interact with faculty and teaching assistants. And there are MOOCs, the free, not-for-credit courses in which tens of thousands of students sign up for courses and complete work often graded by their peers.

"There are lots of options in between" those models of online education, "and that's a really interesting space. We've talked a lot about what we could create in that space," said Charles Tucker, vice provost for undergraduate education and innovation. He and Laurie Kramer, associate dean in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, co-chair the MOOC committee. Tucker provided an overview of the group's work thus far with a campus governance group Monday. They will continue to advise the chancellor on such matters.

Much of higher education, including the Urbana campus, has been following the Georgia Institute of Technology's decision over the summer to offer a new MOOC-based professional master's degree in computer science. The program, offered by Georgia Tech in partnership with AT&T and online education provider Udacity, is to cost less than $7,000, much less than an on-campus degree.

The Urbana committee did not make recommendations for specific types of MOOCs or online courses, but it did outline several potential areas that colleges, units and departments should consider.

"We want to encourage units to think about proposals that are aligned with their expertise and mission. ... And the MOOC strategic advisory committee will consider and promote some ideas that involve multiple units," Tucker said.

Ideas for MOOCs include high school advanced-placement or dual-credit courses, general-education or college-readiness courses, professional-development or certification degrees, UI Extension courses and more.

The committee outlined several key areas on which any new course or program should be evaluated: its alignment with the UI's educational mission, income generation, effect on existing programs and more.

As for the campus working with Coursera, the committee recommended it continue its current policy of not offering credit for Coursera MOOCs but being open to awarding credit for what Tucker called "MOOC-plus" type of experiences.

A MOOC-plus type of course would meet the campus criteria and have more of a structured registration so the university knows more about the student's identity (right now, it only takes a click or two to register for many MOOCs), and can offer more faculty/teaching assistant interaction structured proctoring of exams, among other things, according to Tucker.

"What kind of experience is worthy for credit from Illinois?" Tucker said.

The UI does not have an exclusive arrangement with Coursera regarding delivery of MOOCs; the campus should explore offering online courses on other software platforms, including open-source ones, the committee also recommended.

Another recommendation called for the campus to boost staffing in certain areas, such as in video production, to aid in online course development.

About five to seven UI courses are in the pipeline to be offered on Coursera. Later this fall, the university is expected to issue a request for proposals from the faculty for the next batch of courses it may offer on Coursera. These courses would be offered in fall 2014 or spring 2015.

For an overview of UI courses offered on Coursera, visit http://www.coursera.org/illinois.

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Sid Saltfork wrote on November 12, 2013 at 9:11 am

Why not price the grades also?  A grand for an "A", or $250 for a "C".  After the final is paid for; everyone can go to the virtual reality Union Building for a virtual reality drink.  All grads could get a pair of red socks just like the alumni wear with their printer diploma.  After all; the Scarecrow only needed a paper diploma from the Wizard to prove that he was smart.  Wow, there would be many more Ph.D.'s.

Wait a minute.... Does an advanced diploma prove that one is smart?  What about all of those Academic Professionals working under a shaky contract for lower pay?

Are MOOCs about money, or knowledge? 

Sandy wrote on November 12, 2013 at 10:11 am

I'm currently taking a class on Coursera taught by a professor from the University of Virginia because I'm interested in the topic.  This professor is as interesting as most of those I paid to see in person on the way to earning my degree in this area.

Coursera classes are about knowledge.