MOOCs: Transformation in Progress – A Multi-Part Blog

Unless you’re just looking for history on the subject, the topic of Massively Online Open Courses (MOOCs) is transforming so rapidly that articles and blogs are becoming obsolete almost as quickly as they’re written.  If you want to understand what’s happening and keep up with the progression, prepare to read frequently and at a rapid pace.  The evolution is actually fascinating.  So, this is part one of a multi-part blog.  I have no idea how many parts there will be – enough to satisfy my curiosity (more than 1).

If you like your information in nice, neat, simplified formats, here’s a great little timeline that is periodically updated on The Chronicle of HIgher Education in their Technology section titled, “What you need to know about MOOCs,” (although, the article that runs with the timeline is already a little out of date…).  You get a list of major players and milestones since 2008 in a layout that’s easily digested.  Just keep in mind that it’s running about 30 days behind the times.  While it is still true, for the moment (maybe), that there are currently no colleges granting credit for MOOCs.  Expect that to change in a flash.  On January 23, Georgia State University adopted a new policy that permits students to receive class credit for taking MOOCs (to include transfer of credits for MOOCs taken outside the university).  On February 7, the American Council on Education endorsed five MOOCs offered by Coursera for credit.  While the overall credit-granting process for MOOCs still needs some ironing, is it really that different from accepted practices allowing credit for transfer of courses?  Perhaps not.  It will require some thought and effort, but it’s not what I would truly consider disruptive.  It’s just change.  Change happens.  You’d think we’d be used to it by now.  Evolve or perish – it applies to just about everything.

MOOCs are here and they aren’t just an issue for academic journals, interested educators, and curious students.  They have decidedly socio-economic and political (big and little “p” politics) facets that add even more fascination to the mix.  Governor’s like Jim Hunt (NC) are eyeing MOOCS as a tool to increase college graduation rates despite lagging state funds and increasing tuition (see Academic Partnerships’ MOOC2Degree).  Providers like Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy, and Udemy are racing to provide the optimal tool package.  This is big business, and we’re just starting to see the tip of the investment iceberg.  Last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded over $3 million in grants to colleges and universities to support continued development of MOOCs and innovations in the “flipped” classroom, a relatively new pedagogical model.  Even Forbes is getting into pedagogy – check out their article on the flipped classroom.  Just be advised that MOOCs aren’t single utility tools.  They’re more like a digital Home Depot or Lowes (whichever you prefer).  The potential shopper needs to have an understanding of what they actually need and want (and how they will use it) before they walk inside.  Otherwise, they may quickly become lost, confused, overwhelmed and frustrated.

There’s no point in worrying.  That’s wasted time and effort.  We just need to start thinking very quickly about what we want to build, how we are going to build it, and how we are going to  manage and mentor students to ensure they get what they need and can successfully use all the tools in the expanding toolbox.  That’s it for blog #1.  In the next one, we’ll take a closer look at the MOOC itself, how it’s evolving, and where some of the challenges and opportunities lie.

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