If a college takes seriously the challenges offered by disruptive technological innovations in higher education, it has three options:




We have discussed in previous postings the opportunities, complexities and risks of a school trying to build its own online courses.

MOOCs, particularly when offered through a consortium of universities or through a for-profit firm, are a form of professionally prepared online courses.  For schools struggling to respond to the challenge of disruptive technological change in higher education, MOOCs may seem attractive.  They are said to be free.  They are often prepared by recognized experts and bear the imprimatur of respected universities.   They are said to have enormous enrollments which suggest broad acceptance by the learning community.

But there are significant disadvantages.    MOOCs vary enormously in quality and presentation.  Some MOOCs are not courses at all, but merely collections of course materials.   Instruction and assessment of student outcomes vary greatly and in some instances instruction and assessment are not at acceptable levels.

As a school considers giving credit to its students for taking MOOCs, it should evaluate each candidate MOOC against the list of thirteen characteristics of a good online course which we have provided in previous posts.   MOOCs which do not provide most of the thirteen characteristics in the list should be rejected as a basis for granting credit toward a degree.   Otherwise, the school granting credit is likely to find students frustrated by MOOCs and unable to perform well in evaluations of mastery of the subject.


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One Reply to “Considering MOOCs”

  1. A satisfying rant and I can only agree on the mytrsey of why for-profit publishers have cornered the journals market and make a mint selling us our own volunteer work though much more in the sciences than humanities, in truth. Most humanities journals still run on the old volunteer basis, with modest institutional support (always in greater danger), though the big ones e.g. AHR obviously have professionalized, though to no great value to the profession, it seems to me in that case (aside from running a lot of reviews).But the case for self-created software environments is a little trickier. I work at a university with a great, entrepreneurial IT staff who have thrown a lot of energy into various custom’ applications for administrative functions and into customizing Blackboard for our use. And though I respect and support their work, I have to say their custom’ applications (for things like graduate admissions [working pretty well] and academic personnel [a wrongheaded disaster in every way]) are rarely as polished as commercial software. Designing good complex environments is really hard, and requires not only substantial resources and a long wait from investment to return, but also years of iterations that (if those doing the work are competent and properly managed) make the environment better over time.The challenges are great. Blackboard is certainly not ideal, and their habit of changing interfaces every 3-4 years, just as 1,000s of professors had finally figured out how to use the existing interface puts them up with Microsoft on my hate-list, but on the whole, they system now is smooth and doesn’t have the quirks and balks that our homegrown software has, even at its best. Sadly, I’m skeptical about the ability of loose, non-profit and ad hoc coalitions of complicated institutions to have both the skills, the capital and the stamina to produce high quality online systems, at least for now. But open source journals and avoiding sharks like Elsevier, Kluwer, and Springer: absolutely! Guest editing a special issue of a journal recently with one of these companies was a nightmare, including typesetting by diligent but poorly informed Sinhalese typesetters that rendered dates as numbers. Did you know that the American Revolution began in 1,776? Oy!

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