MOOCs and Economic Reality

In the article of Mo., July 8, Clay Shirky argues that it is impossible to understand what’s happening with MOOCs without understanding what’s happened to higher education in general. During the last 40 years, the higher education had been living the steady increases in tuition, class size, and non-tenured faculty. The net benefit from a bachelor’s degree keeps shrinking every year, and nothing today suggesting a reversal of the trend. This is the environment in which MOOCs have appeared, and the context in which they challenge traditional education that is not able anymore to keep cost and value in equilibrium. The only solution to it to “keep expenses below revenues”. (“…Profound.  There should be courses teaching this principle“, commented one of many discussants…)

Shirky argues that “small, identity-driven colleges might find some respite from those changes … but even that is no guarantee of viability”. (Deep Springs is pointed to as an exemplar).

MOOCs are not the future of higher education—that future will be far more various and surprising than we can see now—but they do expand the horizon of the visible. “What happens now is largely in the hands of the people experimenting with the new tools, rather than defending themselves from them”.

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Roundtable: Opening UP Higher Education: Open Content, Open Networked Learning, MOOCs, Open Business – What to Expect? What to Be Ready For?


On June 25th, the Chair organised a Roundtable on Open Education & MOOCs with the title:

Opening UP Higher Education: Open Content, Open Networked Learning, MOOCs, Open Business – What to Expect? What to Be Ready For?

An intense debate is growing in catalan and spanish universities regarding their participation in the creation of MOOC courses. Several seminars, meetings and one-day sessions  are beig held by educational institutions and the local government, being the recent ones a one-day session on MOOCs at the University of Barcelona and a seminar of the ACUP (Public Catalan Universities Association).

To bring together the agents involved in MOOC research at UOC, the Chair decided to hold an internal roundtable with  two invited external experts: Terry Anderson from Atabhasca University, and Jordi Sancho, from University of Barcelona’s Interactive Media Lab. The roundtable served to put on the table the main concerns about MOOCs at UOC and debate crucial aspects such as their scalability, pedagogic models, sustainability and business models.

More information:

Jornada: MOOCs – Reptes i Oportunitats per a les Universitats (Síntesi)

Avui dia 26 de juny hem assistit a una jornada sobre MOOCs convocada per l’Associació Catalana d’Universitats Públiques (ACUP). El seminari ha portat per títol:

MOOCs – Reptes i Oportunitats per a les Universitats

L’objectiu d’aquesta jornada ha estat fomentar el debat sobre l’impacte que els MOOCs poden tenir sobre el sector de l’educació i les seves entitats. Han participat en aquest esdeveniment representants d’algunes de les plataformes de MOOCs més importants del moment, com ara EdX, Coursera o Miriada X, així com representats de diverses institucions educatives i de la Direcció General d’Universitats de la Generalitat de Catalunya.

A continuació podeu veure una síntesi del debat i del comentaris a Twitter:


Winners of Contest "MOOC Production Fellowship" Announced

In an attempt to fuel technological innovation in European higher education, the reputable German foundation Stifterverband and Iversity company announced on March 11 the contest  “The MOOC Production Fellowship” worth €25,000 for each winner.
(see our post of 13/03: )

A jury of independent experts from diverse backgrounds, most of them from Germany, just announced the winners, authors of 10 courses. The proposals of about 250 university teachers were submitted in video form online and voted as their favorite by about 70,000 people  who are supposed to be future students. This public vote of interest is a quite unique feature of this MOOC initiative. Says Hans Kloepper, one of the Iversity´s founders and organizer of the contest:

“We approach MOOCs as students and customers, understanding the perspectives of those interested in free, higher-level education. Public competitions through social media are normal for university students… We made student interest visible by creating a public voting.”

In the coming months the fellows will produce their courses, the first of which will go live in the autumn of 2013. The pre-enrollment is open since June 10.

Funded and defined by German academe and business, this initiative was inclusive to other countries as well: one of the winners is Dr. Alberto Suárez, Professor of Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, who proposed the course “Monte Carlo Methods in Finance”. Watch his video presentation here:

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New Research Grants to Study Student Experiences & Systemic Impact of MOOCs

The MOOC Research Initiative, financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will award grants of $10,000 to $25,000 to researchers seeking to explore issues such as student experiences in MOOCs and the free courses’ systemic impact.

The initiative is aimed at “any group of academics who’ve ‘heard death by MOOCs’ and want to move past the hype and start looking at the actual research around open online courses,” said a co-founder of the project, George Siemens, associate director of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University, in Alberta.

In 2008, along with Stephen Downes, of Canada’s National Research Council, George  Siemens designed and taught the first massive open online course, “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge,” which was completed online by about 2,500 students.  He has since taught more than a dozen open courses known as cMOOCs.

Mr. Siemens acknowledged the deep impact of such courses, but he said he wanted to find out exactly what that impact looked like: “We want to target the designer experience and faculty experience as well.”
The initiative, which kicked off on June 5, will accept research proposals until July 7. Grantees will present preliminary findings at a conference in December, and their final results will be released in early 2014. Mr. Siemens acknowledged the aggressive nature of the project’s timeline, but he said that given the speedy adoption of MOOCs at universities nationwide, it is important to produce evidence and disseminate it as quickly as possible.

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A MOOC-like Open Online Master Program, Free or Accredited at low-cost

Online Master program in Computer Science (OMS CS) was announced yesterday by Georgia Tech at two levels. Courses in the program will be free through Udacity’s site, made up of video lectures and computer-graded assignments. Students who want credit or a degree will have to apply for admission to the university and pay tuition; they will get access to teaching assistants and even, in some cases, have their assignments graded by people.

The fees put a top-ranked computer-science program at a price point comparable to a typical community college—about $134 per credit, compared with the normal rates at Georgia Tech of $472 per credit for in-state students and $1,139 per credit for out-of-state students. The program is expected to take most students three years to complete, and cost less than $7,000. The university and Udacity will split the revenue from the paying students, with 60 percent going to Georgia Tech and 40 percent to Udacity.

According to Mr.R. Bras, the university’s provost,  the program “is going to be as hard and at a level of excellence of a regular degree.” And students on the degree track will  take tests in person at one of 4,000 proctored testing centers run by Pearson VUE.

Here is the fact sheet released as Q&A:

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A MOOC Moratorium at American University

On January 9, 2013, the provost at American University (AU), Scott A. Bass, issued a Memorandum to the deans regarding AU policy on MOOCs. After the April debate, sparked by the faculty members of San Jose State U, Amherst College and Duke U, the administration of AU decided to make its position more public and on March 8, 2013 sent the following statement to university faculty and staff to clarify the university’s “moratorium” on creating massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

How does it add to the debate launched by San Jose State? Both universities seem to be on the same “side of the barricade”, strongly opposing the rise of MOOCs. But in fact, a fundamental, long-standing issue, at the very heart of the university system, is brought into discussion: the issue of academic freedom and autonomy of faculty.

The two universities demonstrate quite different interpretation of it. In San Jose, the philosophy department is alarmed by the possible loss of influence in decision making process, prospects of diminishing their professorial status and job security; they also argued for student interests. In AU, Wash.D.C., the administration did not bring students into picture at all. No pedagogical or tech concerns raised, just the utilization of university resources (academic, human, financial) and total control of the faculty. The moratorium forbids any experimentation with online teaching, unless it does not violate one of the 7 “quidelines” for “permissible creative online activity“. In the meantime, the administration continues to draft a policy how the massive online courses would operate there: in institutional partnerships or freelance-based, when professors would teach MOOCs on their own – and bringing up new issues of representation, teaching time, working load, promotion, tenure.

Related articles:


MOOCs for Teacher Professional Development Partnership

Most of recent news about developments of open online courses have been gloomy.   The black shadow of MOOCs started to crawl into technological innovation of any kind. Just to mention the title of an article in the Chronicle today: Scholars Sound the Alert From the ‘Dark Side’ of Tech Innovation. ( It is hardly worth of reading, though…It reports on the conference in Milwaukee, which was called “The Dark Side of the Digital” ).

 But this one is a good news. A first series of massive Teacher Professional Development (PD) courses will be launched  online on the Coursera platform this summer, free (no strings seem attached).
A dozen of leading schools of education, educational and cultural institutions joined Coursera for this ambitious project. In words of Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education,
“Coursera’s ambitious agenda to take teacher training and professional development to scale using technology is an important and crucial innovation on the road to meeting our global education goals.”

(Check out the current list of courses.)

Keep reading here:


MOOC Teaches How to Cheat in Online Courses, With Eye to Prevention

Cheating in online education remains a concern  for many instructors and institutions, with some universities hiring online-proctoring companies to monitor students through webcams. Others require students to take examinations at a physical testing site. Besides moral issues, both options are quite costly.

To respond to these concerns, Bernard Bull of Concordia University Wisconsin, will start next week a newly designed MOOC “Understanding Cheating in Online Courses”. After 2 years of research on cheating, focusing not on those who get caught but those who get away with it, Bull found that his views on cheating had begun to shift…

The course, with the cap of 1,000 participants, will run for 8 weeks on the Canvas MOOC platform, a course-management company developed by Instructure.

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Why some universities vote against MOOCs

UPDATE: May 7, 2013: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad MOOC?  |   Faculty Backlash Grows

San Jose State University has been at the front line of experimenting with MOOC models in its search for ways to meet continuous budget cuts and to reduce endless waiting lists of enrolled students to actually get access to the high-demand courses they need to graduate. Part of  University´s strategic vision is also to explore new monetization models and redesign of pedagogies for both on campus and online education. The first two semesters of the partnership with edX courses look very promising, and when asked about risks related to this daring strategy, Mr. M. Qayoumi, president of San Jose State, answered: ”It could not be worse than what we do face to face”. Not limiting itself to the edX, the university in January entered into a new partnership with Udacity and Coursera, using different approach from edX in every case.

Next thing we hear from San Jose State is a fierce attack by faculty of philosophy department on “Great Teachers” from elite universities and call for professional solidarity: there is no shortage of capable faculty or any pedagogical issues at San Jose State, so why should they teach MIT course? In addition, they challenge the pedagogy used by MOOC and troubled by moral and academic issues associated with MOOCs.

Another faculty debate on a proposed partnership with edX started at Amherst College and ended up on April 16, 2013 with voting 70-36 against it. Debate at the deciding faculty meeting centered around the suitability of the edX platform and MOOCs to Amherst’s educational mission. However, the faculty voted to approve a second motion that would explore alternatives to edX, relying on the own college resources. New ways of teaching would include “flipped” classrooms and online videos. (As for “resources”, just a reminder: Amherst endowment is ca $1.6 Bln).

“I think we’re at the early stages of that honeymoon period coming to an end,” says Richard Garrett, vice president and principal analyst of Eduventures. The current debate at Amherst demonstrates “a healthy way how the question of incorporating online education into the curriculum could be thoroughly discussed by any organization – a way that they wouldn’t have a few years ago“, says Garrett.