The Future of MOOCs as Seen By Profs Who Taught Them

Enough massive online open courses have now been taught that when The Chronicle of Higher Education sought to canvas opinions on the new medium from those who have had the most experience with it, they were able to round up nearly 200 professors who have served as MOOC instructors. One hundred and three of the professors who received The Chronicle's survey responded to it, and the answers they gave allow an opportunity to see the process from the inside.

The instructors were asked to talk about their experiences teaching more than 10,000 students at once, and did they feel that MOOCs were an effective way to deliver knowledge. The level of enthusiasm was mixed, but on the whole the professors seemed convinced that MOOCs can work as an educational tool — although most were reporting class sizes substantially below the 10,000 mark. As a matter of fact, their median class size was only 2,600.

What was more interesting is that although few of the professors had a background in economics or finance, many believed that MOOCs were a disruptive enough technology that they could eventually serve as a means of bringing down the cost of higher education for students. According to the results of the survey published by The Chronicle, nearly 65% of respondents expected at least a marginal decline in price as a result of online courses open to anyone and everyone on the internet.

The Chronicle's Steve Kolowich cautioned that the survey was not scientific, pointing out that the people who are teaching MOOCs are probably not a representative sample of all teachers. "[It could be that] the most enthusiastic of the MOOC professors were the likeliest to complete the survey," he explained. "These early adopters of MOOCs have overwhelmingly volunteered to try them — only 15 percent of respondents said they taught a MOOC at the behest of a superior — so the deck was somewhat stacked with true believers." He also noted that those who taught MOOCs that did not succeed did not respond to the survey.

On the one hand, many of the professors were from some of the top universities in the country believed that while MOOCs provided a better educational experience than a bottom-tier college might, agreeing that MOOCs were as good as lectures at their own esteemed institutions was a step too far. This divide was visible in the results that showed that 68% of professors believed that MOOCs could lower tuition at their own schools, yet 86% thought that tuition was going to go down for students overall.

A common criticism of MOOCs is that they have very low completion rates — the elite professors reported that on average only 7.5% of their students complete their classes. Another downside is the time it takes to create a MOOC: Professors said they averaged 100 hours of preparation time. Professors also reported spending 8 to 10 hours a week on their MOOC once class started, largely in discussion forums.

03 21, 2013
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