Even my mother is asking about MOOCs!

School Of Open Workshop WMDE / Elly Köpf / CC BY-SA

School Of Open Workshop WMDE / Elly Köpf / CC BY-SA

When my phone rings at 6:30 in the morning, I know it is one of about 4 people – my son, my daughter, EMS, or my mother.  So when the phone rang at 6:30am on October 8 and I looked over to see my mother was calling, I wasn’t too surprised.  What did surprise me, however, was what came next.

“Do you know about these M-O-O-C things?” my mother asked.    Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a morning person.  While I often teach at 8am, I’m not really feeling human until after 9 or 10am.  Starting off the morning correcting my mother’s pronunciation and discussing current educational trends before I’ve introduced caffeine into my system was certainly interesting.  “Good morning, Mom.  It is pronounced “MOOC” with an “oo” sound.  We don’t spell it out.  It stands for Massive Open Online Course, and yes, I’ve done a lot of reading about them and even participated in a couple of them,” I answered her.  “They are in the Journal this morning, and I thought of you,” Mom continued.

A retired educator and life-long learner, my mother reads the Wall Street Journal daily.  If it is important enough to be written about in the Journal, she wants to know about it.  She got interested in online learning a few years ago when I started teaching for MoVIP and Kaplan, and she even taught online for about a year during the second year of MoVIP.  When she told me that the Journal had written a large article about MOOCs, I knew that they were becoming main-stream.

What is a MOOC?  Well, MOOCs are online courses that are designed to have thousands of students in them.  They allow a learner to gain knowledge in a structured way, guided by a university professor, but without the expense of a college or university.  There are even companies that have sprung up, such as Coursera, Udacity and edX, allowing a student to earn credit for a MOOC by paying a fee and proving that they did the work and have the knowledge.  Of course, the cost is quite low, in one instance $150 per class.  Compare that with the $1061.59 that a student will pay to take a three credit class at Missouri S&T this spring!

Some of the concerns about MOOCs are that students often sign up, yet do not finish the course.  In some cases, over 90% of students who enroll in a MOOC may not finish it.  However, if a student enrolls in a MOOC and learns SOMETHING, isn’t that a good thing?

MOOCs can be used in many different ways.  A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Focus on Teaching & Technology conference at UMSL.  The keynote speaker was Amy Collier, Director of Digital Learning Initiatives at Stanford University.  It was very interesting to hear her speak, and one of her topics was MOOCs.  To provide some background info, Stanford is a big name in MOOCs, having started offering them at the very beginning.  Dr. Collier spoke about how a MOOC was used by a university in Puerto Rico, when an instructor was asked to teach a class out of their specialty area.  While researching to prepare for the class, the instructor found that Stanford was going to be offering a MOOC that met the requirements of the class in question.  With permission, the university in Puerto Rico asked all of the students in the class to enroll in the MOOC, where they found the lectures and a number of activities, then participate in class where they participated in additional activities.  This allowed the instructor to offer an enriched class, while using the MOOC as the foundation.

Recently, Georgia Institute of Technology announced that it would offer a MOOC-based master’s degree in computer science.  Working with Udacity and supported by AT&T, Georgia Tech will charge students only $6,600 for the degree program, which will allow the public to interact with degree seeking students.  Those who are fully enrolled will have access to proctored exams, tutoring, online office hours and some support services.  Written about in the New York Times, as well as online tech journals such as Slashdot and Gizmag, the program reportedly had over 19,000 applicants for the 600 available seats.  Information about this project can be found at https://www.udacity.com/georgiatech

What do MOOCs really mean?  For one thing, those who choose to be lifelong learners do not need to be limited to professional journals, but can instead learn by participating in MOOCs that peak our interest.  It means that we can download a few MP4 lectures to watch on our favorite device while on the way to our next conference, knowing that we are using our time to stretch ourselves.  It means that we can enroll in a class outside of our comfort zone, learn something new, and complete the class or not as our own schedule allows.

MOOCs may mean that we can direct a struggling student to find a MOOC on a level that will provide background information to the topic they wish to study.  This might help that student to perform at the level they wish to perform, having filled in a few gaps in their knowledge.  MOOCs may also mean that motivated students may not need to take as many lower level classes, but can instead study a subject at a higher level.

The story that started the phone call from my mother at 6:30am?  That is located at http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303759604579093400834738972