Should Public Universities Partner With Coursera or Go It Alone?

Along with increasing acceptance of online courses as part of a changing higher education landscape comes controversy over their value, The New York Times' Tamar Lewin reports. On the heels of last month's announcement that Coursera, one of the biggest online education platforms in the world, will partner with state universities that together educate millions of students nationwide, the debate has grown over whether online education will actually benefit students or harm them.

However, the question of quality hasn't been the only one raised by higher education experts, as well as by faculty and administrators of universities themselves. While many rushed to sign up with Coursera or other massive online education course providers, now some are wondering if it would not be more cost efficient – as well as serve students better – to develop online education solutions either in-house or in collaboration with other university campuses.

This week, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a group of provosts from Big 10 universities, issued a position paper saying that higher education must take advantage of new education technology — but perhaps on its own. On a small scale, C.I.C. members' CourseShare program already does that, with members sharing classes in less commonly taught languages.

"Many of us feel more comfortable building our own infrastructure, rather than relying on a for-profit company," said Karen Hanson, provost of the University of Minnesota and the committee's chairwoman. "We think we want to remain in control of our own intellectual property."

According to the NYT, University of Minnesota is a Coursera partner that currently offers five courses through the platform while preparing to offer five more.

Coursera's co-founder Daphne Koller does not seem concerned about what the position paper could mean for the future of Coursera/CIC partnership. Schools already retain all the rights to the courses they design for Coursera, and she thinks that in the end they will leave the technological side to the company that has more expertise with it rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel.

Coursera, which initially worked only with elite research universities, shifted gears after finding that most students enrolled in its courses already had college degrees. Ms. Koller said she realized that to "move the needle" on the basic problems of American higher education — access and affordability — the company would have to work with the public universities that educate most college students.

06 24, 2013
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