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Inside Higher Ed Articles

Humans, the Latest MOOC Feature

By Carl Straumsheim

One of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s most popular massive open online courses is adding a feature not seen in any of its other humanities MOOCs: instructors grading essays.

Learners in Introduction to Philosophy: God, Knowledge and Consciousness, which started on Monday, now have the option to have their essays graded and reviewed by real, flesh-and-blood philosophers — in this first case, one of MIT’s own graduate students. The goal, according to MIT, is twofold: to give learners from all over the world an introduction to basic philosophical topics and — for those who pay $300 for an identity-verified certificate — an opportunity to improve their written argumentation skills and to experiment with new employment opportunities for philosophers.

The philosophy course, now in its third iteration, mirrors the development of MOOCs in general. When it first launched, it featured lecture videos and multiple-choice questions to test learners’ reading comprehension. The second time around, it evolved by adding peer grading, where each learner evaluates a handful of papers written by course mates.

Teaching the MOOC has been a “marvelous experience,” said Caspar Hare, the professor of philosophy who created it. Nearly 90,000 learners signed up during the first two runs. The discussion forums buzzed with debates about religion and free will. Yet Hare said he was left “feeling you could do more” — referring to the lack of writing assignments.

“It’s really central to the way you come to understand the field,” Hare said. “I just don’t think you can get rid of that.”

Essay grading in MOOCs has been a tricky issue for institutions to solve. MOOCs can enroll tens of thousands of learners, which means assigning even a single essay will lead to more content than an instructor and a small army of teaching assistants can read, let alone give meaningful feedback on. EdX, the MOOC platform MIT helped found, has piloted automated essay grading, but the technology is not there yet (not to mention that some instructors, including Hare, are highly skeptical of it).

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on September 2, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



MOOCs and Beyond

By Dan Butin

By now we know that MOOCs are not the final answer. Higher education will not be saved (or destroyed) by these massive open online courses that splashed into everyone’s consciousness about three years ago. Yes, they provide some fascinating opportunities for expanding access to higher education, for helping us to rethink how teaching and learning works, and for revitalizing the debate about the role of faculty and the power (or futility) of going to college. But most pundits and educators have moved on to the next shiny new fad.

This is a mistake.

For underneath and behind the scenes, much progress continues to be made.* In fact, I would suggest that it is only now – after three frustrating years where expectations were raised way too high and subsequently plummeted way too low – are we starting to see the real opportunities.

This can be seen in the recent announcement by MIT that one of its popular MOOCs (on philosophy) will introduce “instructor grading.” As the press release proclaims, “having a trained philosopher [will] provide individual feedback [which] is crucial to knowing how much of the material was truly understood. That engagement is an essential part of the pedagogical experience — just not one learners from Boston to Bangladesh can typically experience together.”

This is a fascinating development. By now it is crystal clear that MOOCs cannot be compared to traditional courses. Yes, they may replace and/or supplement existing courses, but they are fundamentally different. And that difference is exactly the kind of interactivity – of engagement, feedback, grading – that is at the heart of the give and take of deep learning in higher education. Without such engagement, MOOCs might as well be (and have been compared to) the correspondence courses of the 1800s or your local public radio or TV station. It’s just information transfer; not true knowledge development.

Until now the MOOC world has created multiple workarounds attempting to get around this more or less impassable obstacle of one of the foundational aspects of a course. The simplest solution, of course, was just to pretend that such feedback and engagement were not truly relevant to something being a course. But such a perspective, and pundit-fueled euphoria, was short-lived. More plausible solutions have included everything from automated assessment to competency-based education to differing permutations of peer feedback. But each of these solutions has always been dogged (not fairly in some cases) by the seeming lack of quality of such engagement.

This is where MIT’s announcement enters the picture. Their solution – of using “professional philosophers” – solves the really important problem of the seeming lack of quality. This solution appears simple and obvious, but until recently it did not seem plausible to do so on the massive scale of MOOCs, not least because of the costs involved. So what MIT has nicely done is connect this solution to their certificate program – which will cost $300 – such that students can, according to their website, “verify your achievement and increase your job prospects.”

So let’s do the math.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed



Higher Ed: The Next Generation?

By Akiba Covitz

Times have changed since we began our multi-author blog, Higher Ed Beta, in December 2013. After a spring-summer hiatus, we’ve decided to embark on a reboot and a re-title, graduating from beta to gamma. The first three pieces, one authored by each of us, reflect on where we’ve been, what we’ve been up to, and where we hope to go with the blog, and more generally, with our own journeys in the higher ed landscape. – Steve, Michael, & Akiba 

Now that the breathlessness/euphoria/panic of the early MOOC days is well behind us, let’s use this shared space to figure out what our “beta” will actually look like. And by us, I mean those in higher education and the growing number of not-for-profits, for-profits, and foundations engaged in the space. Yes, it is a far more crowded space than it was a few years ago — and a space that has always been a reluctant stage sharer.

What’s the new normal, now that it’s clear that the mass die-off of colleges that many predicted is not taking place? (at least not yet) Belts are very much tightened (for most), classrooms are certainly changing, and the walls dividing our campuses from the world are lowering, but the song remains pretty much the same: educating students, conducting research, and spreading knowledge.

That said, the modes of delivery are being tweaked and tested. The use of data and analytics is on the rise in a place where the ineffable has often been enough if not the end. Vocational and skills-based training is also no longer the work of other institutions, but of all institutions. MOOCs are still in the mix, but schools of all kinds are finding their niches with certificates, new consortia, expanded “adult ed” offerings in person and online, etc. It could be that the new normal is that there no longer is a normal and that business as usual is morphing into normal business (with the kinds of ebbs and flows that corporate HQs have been more concerned with than ivory towers). The two worlds will not become one, but, as I have written before when this blog first started, higher ed will reach and must reach higher heights as more of that business-oriented but still humanistic ethos is allowed to guide our decisions.

With all of that in mind, we will use this space to get beyond the flame-throwing, Molotov-cocktail infused revolutionary hype of three or four years ago to a more measured, departmental barbecue, nice-micro-brew-lager-sipping evolutionary stance.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on August 1, 2016 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed



The Limits of Open

Coursera’s decision to charge learners in some massive open online courses up front — viewed by some as inevitable — has critics asking if the MOOC provider is diverging from its mission of universal access.

By Carl Straumsheim

As Coursera tweaks its business model to find a financially viable way to offer massive open online courses, critics say its MOOCs are becoming less open and less like courses.

Coursera last week announced the release of dozens of new courses and course sequences, which it calls Specializations, in subjects ranging from career brand management to creative writing. But many of the new MOOCs came with a new barrier to enrollment. To sign up for Michigan State University’s How to Start Your Own Business, for example, budding entrepreneurs have to pay $79 up front for the first of five courses in the Specialization or prepay $474 for the entire program.

When enrolling in a MOOC on Coursera, learners are normally met with a box asking them if they would like to take it free — giving them access to all the course materials but not awarding a certificate upon completion — or pay $49 for an identity-verified course certificate provided upon completion. Learners can first pick the free option but change their minds later, however.

“You can sign up to earn a course certificate anytime — even after you’ve started a course,” Coursera explains on its website. “Once signed up, you’ll quickly verify your identity each time you submit an assignment. Verifying your work is free, and you can choose to pay for the certificate whenever you’re ready.”

In the new MOOCs that charge up front, learners who choose not to pay are free to “explore,” Coursera said in a blog post. That means they get access to course materials such as video lectures, discussion boards and practice quizzes, but view-only access to graded assignments. To turn the course materials into an actual course, learners have to pay.

As Coursera last year announced new capstone projects created in partnership with private-sector companies, CEO Rick Levin told Inside Higher Ed that Specializations were an important part of the company developing a sustainable business model. In last week’s blog post, Coursera indicated that financial reasons are behind its decision to charge some learners up front.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on January 29, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News


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The 2016 Inside Higher Ed Survey of Chief Academic Officers

By Scott Jaschik

At a time of intense pressure on academic leaders, provosts are worried about the future of liberal arts education — not just at liberal arts colleges, but at all institutions that provide general education to students.

They have real doubts about their budget situations, some new MOOC-inspired forms of higher education and the ability to preserve academic integrity when pursuing big-time athletics.

But amid these and other problems, the provosts generally feel good about the academic health of their institutions. And the provosts are generally becoming more open to competency-based education (a form of higher education of which many academics were skeptical just a few years ago). On trigger warnings, one of the hotly debated issues in academe in the last year, the provosts are divided (but leaning toward dubious).

On tenure — of keen interest to many faculty members — the provosts aren’t pushing for change, but are quite open to long-term contracts as an alternative.

These are some of the findings of the 2016 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers, conducted by Gallup and answered by 539 provosts or chief academic officers. The academic leaders received complete anonymity on their responses, but their answers were coded by institution to allow for analysis by sector in some cases. You can download the full survey questions and responses here.

An Uncertain Future for the Liberal Arts

The provosts responded to questions about the liberal arts at a time of considerable angst at many liberal arts colleges and in the liberal arts divisions of many colleges and universities that also have professional degree programs. Some liberal arts colleges report unsustainable finances and difficulty attracting enough applicants. Liberal arts departments seem to be targets for elimination at all kinds of institutions. Parents and politicians worry (even if evidence doesn’t neatly back up the concern) that today’s liberal arts major is tomorrow’s nonpaying tenant in her parents’ basement.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on January 22, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



Global Credit Transfer

Six universities from around the world plan experiment with MOOCs that could expand to other online offerings

By Jack Grove for Times Higher Education

Six universities from Australia, Europe, Canada and the U.S. are seeking to establish a new alliance in which each organization’s massive open online courses (MOOCs) are formally accredited by partner institutions.

The proposed system could be similar to the European Credit Transfer System, which enables universities to recognize marks gained by students while studying at other institutions within the European Union.

However, the proposed system — involving Delft University of Technology, ETH Zurich — Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, the Australian National University, the University of Queensland, the University of British Columbia and Boston University — is believed to be the first international initiative relating to online courses.

“The potential of this scheme is huge, but we need to think about it clearly,” said Anka Mulder, vice president of education and operations at Delft.

“We have to map out a system to see how qualifications compare,” she added.

This will require the consortium to develop a system of reliable testing for MOOCs and to develop coding systems to measure the level and weight of each course, as well as to examine the entry requirements for each module.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on January 7, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



Less Than 1%

By Carl Straumsheim

Less than 1 percent of the learners in the massive open online course partnership between Arizona State University and edX are eligible to earn credit for their work, according to enrollment numbers from the inaugural courses.

The partnership, known as Global Freshman Academy, was announced this spring with great fanfare. University officials and fans of the effort said the new way of delivering education (in addition to traditional online and face-to-face options) might be a way to get new students excited about and enrolled in degree programs.

The initiative launched this fall with three credit-bearing MOOCs — Human Origins, Introduction to Solar Systems Astronomy, and Western Civilization: Ancient and Medieval Europe — drawing a total of 34,086 registrants. Despite the added incentive of credit for completers, each MOOC saw only about 1,100 learners remain active in the course throughout its seven-week duration. Of those learners, 323 now have the option of paying ASU an additional fee to receive credit, the enrollment numbers show.

The number of learners who opt for credit may be even smaller. To be eligible, learners first have to pay $49 for an identity-verified certificate and earn a grade of C or better. Because of how the MOOCs are structured, learners can complete all the lessons and assignments and view their final grade before deciding whether to pay for a transcript from ASU. Learners have a year to make up their minds.

The university has agreed to charge the MOOC learners no more than $200 per credit hour. Credit from the first three Global Freshman Academy MOOCs costs $600 per course. Learners are not required to continue their studies at ASU, but are free to transfer the credits to any college that will accept them.

ASU has not shared how many credit-seeking MOOC learners it hopes to enroll — if such a goal exists. Speaking to Inside Higher Ed in April, Philip Regier, university dean for educational initiatives, said there were “a lot of uncertainties” around that number. He added that he expected “maybe 25,000” to register for some of the MOOCs. The astronomy MOOC, the largest of the first three, attracted 13,423 registrants.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on December 21, 2015 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



An Open Letter to Sherry Turkle On MOOCs and Online Learning

By Joshua Kim

Dear Dr. Turkle,

I am writing this open letter to you after reading your chapter on Education in your important, indispensable, and beautifully written new book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.

In the spirit of your wonderful and generous book, I’d like to offer my critique as an invitation to conversation. 

Critique #1 – MOOCs and Online Education Are Not the Same Thing:

In Reclaiming Conversation, you make the mistake of characterizing MOOCs as interchangeable with online education.

This mistake is distressingly common amongst journalists, but in a book as influential as Reclaiming Conversation I find the conflation of these two educational methods to be particularly troublesome.

The only thing that MOOCs and traditional online education share is a common enabling set of technologies – the internet and the phone.

MOOCs contain two attributes that put them in a separate category to traditional online learning.  First, they are built for scale.  Second, they are built to be open.

Traditional online courses are designed neither for scale or for openness.

Traditional online courses are built around a model of a private community, one consisting of an educator and a limited number of students.

MOOCs are to traditional online learning as a Facebook-only friend is to a real friend.

Critique #2 – Traditional Online Education Privileges Relationships and Conversation:

What is lost in your conflation of MOOCs with traditional online courses is an appreciation of the degree to which online courses (and programs) are built around a pedagogical philosophy that is aligned with your main arguments in Reclaiming Conversation.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on October 25, 2015 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed



A New Route to Student Aid

By Paul Fain

The U.S. Department of Education today announced an experimental pathway to federal aid for partnerships between colleges and nontraditional providers, including ones that run skills boot camps or offer unaccredited online courses.

As part of the long-awaited project, the department will waive a ban on colleges outsourcing more than half of their course content and instruction to a nonaccredited entity. The feds have that authority under the experimental-sites initiative, which allows for flexibility in testing the disbursement of financial aid.

The experiment will be limited in scope, department officials said. They plan to accept fewer than 10 applications from colleges and their partners. But the department said Tuesday that boot camps and MOOC providers are likely candidates for participation, as are short-term certificate programs and forms of corporate training.

“Some of these new models may provide more flexible and more affordable credentials and educational options than those offered by traditional higher [education] institutions, and are showing promise in preparing students with the training and education needed for better, in-demand jobs,” the department said in a written statement.

A key part of the experiment, which is dubbed the Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) program, is to try out new ways of ensuring academic quality in these nontraditional programs.

“Since these providers are not within the purview of traditional accrediting agencies,” the department said, “we have no generally accepted means of gauging their quality.”

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on October 14, 2015 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



‘Double-Dipping’ With MOOCs

By Carl Straumsheim

As massive open online course providers specialize in disciplines and delivery modes, universities are looking for new opportunities to experiment. The trend appears to be benefiting edX.

Many colleges have “double-dipped” by joining both Coursera and edX, two major MOOC providers, since MOOCs went mainstream in 2012. For example, the California Institute of Technology, Rice University and the University of Toronto all partnered with Coursera in July 2012 and then joined edX in 2013. Similarly, Peking University in Beijing first partnered with edX in May 2013, then with Coursera three months later.

But among colleges and universities in the U.S., movement from one MOOC platform to the next is a one-way street. According to an Inside Higher Ed analysis, at least 10 of the institutions that first partnered with Coursera have since joined edX. Not a single edX institution has gone the other way.

After adding the University of Michigan to its list of charter members last week, edX has now recruited all of Coursera’s earliest partners, including the University of Pennsylvania, which joined in June, and Princeton University, in September. Even Stanford University, where Coursera co-founders Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng are faculty members, has since 2013 been a major contributor to Open edX, the MOOC provider’s open-source platform.

Joining a MOOC platform means doing more than filling out a sign-up sheet. Some universities have invested millions in order to become members, while individual MOOCs can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop.

Coursera declined to comment for this article.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on October 13, 2015 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News