By Reeve Hamilton
AUSTIN — In Texas political circles, massive open online courses — commonly known as MOOCs — have enjoyed a resurgence. Officials have praised the typically free college classes, available to anyone with Internet access, as a crucial component in the future of higher education.
Last month, Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, called on colleges to offer credit for such courses. Later, after a meeting of the House Higher Education Committee on the topic, State Representative Dan Branch, a Dallas Republican and the panel’s chairman, said he was “more convinced that high-quality online content will improve and ultimately reduce the cost of education.”
In the state’s academic circles, however, such courses are being reimagined, and a focus that was so prevalent two years ago is giving way to other priorities that university leaders believe will be more effective in meeting their goals.
“I think MOOCs have been helpful and an important catalyst, but they have also been a distraction,” said Harrison Keller, the University of Texas at Austin’s vice provost for higher-education policy and research.
Two years ago, the University of Texas System was the first of the state’s public higher-education institutions to jump on the bandwagon. The system invested $5 million in edX, a nonprofit provider of such courses.
Gene Powell, then the U.T. System’s chairman of the board, said the decision would further the system’s efforts to raise graduation rates and reduce higher-education costs.
The system invested an additional $1.5 million in the development of courses for edX at U.T.-Austin, which rolled out its initial offerings last fall. About $250,000 also went to the University of Texas at Arlington, which will unveil its first edX course next week. The system initially signaled that edX courses might be offered for credit, but that has yet to happen.
[ Full article available at The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/17/us/universities-rethinking-their-use-of-massive-online-courses.html ]