The announcement last month that Coursera, which offers free college classes online, had signed agreements with state universities enrolling more than a million students made it plain that such courses, virtually unheard-of two years ago, are now part of the higher education mainstream.
But along the way, a rancorous debate has emerged over whether such courses will lead to better learning, lower costs and higher graduation rates — or to the dismantling of public universities, downgraded or eliminated faculty jobs, and a second-class education for most students.
Many universities have been quick to sign up with outside providers to offer the “massive open online courses,” known as MOOCs, either as stand-alone courses or in a hybrid format, with the online materials supplemented by a local faculty member. While they portray their online offerings as exploratory, many administrators hope the courses will help them expand their reach, rein in tuition and offer better instruction.
Now a new discussion has begun about whether universities should collaborate to develop and share their courses and technology, rather than working with outside providers. 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.
[ Full article available at The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/20/education/online-classes-fuel-a-campus-debate.html ]