By Paul Glader, Managing Editor
BERLIN — At ed tech conferences like Online Educa Berlin, one well-worn word and topic has the power to captivate and irritate at the same time: MOOC.
MOOCs are the big story of 2012 without a doubt. As several panelists pointed out, the bizarre thing about MOOCs this year was how dramatically they came on the scene and how quickly normally-slow-moving universities are jumping on the MOOC bandwagon out of a mix of fear, peer pressure and reckless abandon.
A session moderator asked a crowd of several hundred people what they wanted to know about MOOCs and an echo of thoughts rang out:
“BUSINESS MODELS!” Someone yelled.
“Software support!” said another.
One main bellowed “What is the point of saturation?”
And, finally, “Just tell us how it’s going to change everything” blurted out another man.
With the table set, the panelists launched into a surprisingly candid conversation about MOOCs and the discussion they are spawning within higher education administrations.
Dr. Gary W. Matkin, dean of continuing ed and distance learning at the University of California at Irvine, said his school is part of Coursera. He made sure the university negotiated carefully in its contract with Coursera. But, he said, he felt many other schools did not and ended up paying too much money or yielding over too much intellectual property.
Because Coursera wants to present courses from “the world’s best universities” some colleges are getting in “by signing a contract that I think no university should be able to sign,” he said. “People (at some colleges) didn’t know what they were doing.”
Overall, Matkin is a believer in the MOOC model. “MOOCs will be an important factor in the use of new instructional technology by all institutions to improve teaching and learning. Coursera can beat many other pedagogy methods,” he said. “Peer to peer interactions are going to be promoted by this. Students are taking responsible for own teaching and peer review. People look down on it. But, darn, it’s pretty effective in the courses I’ve seen. It’s pretty valuable.”
He gave a series of trend statements and predictions that include:
1) Educational will become universal, ubiquitous and free.
2) The supply of Open courseware and open education resources will grow. The 700,000 educational YouTube videos and myriad iTunes lectures etc. are forming a mass that has gravity. MOOCs is one of the things developing from that.
3) The world wide drive to lower the cost of higher education but to maintain quality.
4) The world is undereducated by a billion people.
5) In the US, the average graduate of a college graduates with $27,000 in debt. That’s not good.
6) There’s a huge hope that we can be Improving teaching and learning through online delivery.
7) Concentrations on competency-based assessments.
8) The rise of adaptive learning where the student is more in charge and more directed. It’s going to happen largely through technology.
9) The creation of viable and sustained learning communities.
10) MOOCs will keep multiplying. Coursera is refusing to let in schools not among the top 50 universities in the country. People not in the top 50 universities want to get in the game somehow and these will have to proliferate as they start other MOOCs suppliers and consortiums.
11) No solid MOOC business plan is developed yet.
12) MOOCs will increase the use of transfer credits in the achieving of degrees. The move by ACE and Coursera to study the idea of a “credit bank” so Coursera students can receive credit by up to 2,000 colleges… is a big, big step.
13) MOOCs will: Get all universities, especially elite institutions, into the open learning act. Embracing online education in all its forms.
14) MOOCs will lower the cost of education.
15) Moocs will continue to proliferate. There will be many MOOC channels and the number of institutions engaged in them will increase. Elite institutions will do so for reputation and revenue. 2nd and 3rd tier institutions will do so as a way to reduce costs.
16) It will become a permanent fixture of higher education.
17) Coursera and Udacity are utilities. There will be other consortiums formed among the institutions.
18) Average enrollment size of MOOCs will decline as MOOCs proliferate.
19) LMS tech will incorporate functions and utilities to serve MOOCs.
20) The monetization strategies – how to make money – will all become clearer.
21) If Udacity and Coursera and others will make money, they also have to make money for their suppliers as well. They have to give money back to the universities somehow or universities will not supply them.
22) All university will become more flexible in assessing learning.
23) Software will accompany MOOCs and very rapidly.
Matkin said his university had six faculty members launch Coursera courses. A couple of them, he thinks, did so to sell a few thousand textbooks. Others just wanted to try the experiment. Others didn’t want it to make them rich but to make them famous.
He said his university is “really struggling” with the right IP agreement between the school, the professor and the MOOC provider.
Meanwhile, Dr Robert E .Cummings from the University of Mississippi said that MOOCs are not so massive – with 160,000 students in a class – as some people think compared to video games like World of Warcraft.
He described the MOOC ferver as a “gold rush mentality.” “Everyone wants to jump on board but not everyone is thinking about what they are jumping on to.”
Meanwhile, some college administrators and faculty members view MOOCs like a passing wave: one must duck under the water and hold your breath before popping back up after the fad passes. But Cummings doesn’t agree. He sees the university community in awe of Sebastian Thrun’s radical scientific breakthrough with his artificial intelligence class at Stanford. “Thrun has a big breakthrough,” he said. “Now, we are trying to duplicate the results.”
The big question is whether MOOCs – such as Coursera and Udacity – will be able to find a viable business model in the next three years and be able to please their Venture Capitalist masters that expect a return on investment after such a period of time.
Ole Miss, he says, is taking a cautious approach to MOOCs. The school is considering its unique offerings such as courses related to William Faulkner or the pharmacology program on campus. At present, they have not found faculty who want to teach such courses such as Faulkner in a MOOC format of 3-minute video clips.
Hannes Klopper, managing director of Berlin-based Iversity, has already raised Eur 1 million for a project to convince corporations to join universities in creating MOOCs that help expand a workforce. He calls them “Corporate Open Courses.”
“What if BMW offered an open-source course in automotive engineering?” he asks. “I’m sure they would get 100,000 students.” Such courses, he said, allows companies to engage students with their brand and to train possible future workers and to find hidden talent globally. The courses also could help to create global industrial or business practice standards and make student performance comparable to those standards.
“This wave of innovation (MOOCs) shouldn’t be limited to the academic sector,” Klopper said. “It should have applications beyond academia to a new set of actors.”
He thinks Iversity could then play a role in tracking student data and, perhaps, act as a recruiting firm or agency for companies looking for certain workers.
“What I’m trying to do here is make a case for corporations to step into this world of online learning,” he said. “They do have the resources to have a class produced in Hollywood.”
Watkins doesn’t think much of this idea of doing employee screening for companies. “That’s a little far off as far as I’m concerned,” he said. He noted Udacity had similar ideas.
Then again, the European and German business model for training workers functions a bit differently than that of the United States. Who’s got the right view on MOOCs? Open for debate. Perhaps too early to tell. Worth placing a bet.
Note: WiredAcademic is a media partner for the Online Educa Berlin conference. Editor Paul Glader appeared on a panel and moderated a panel at the event and the two sites exchanged advertisements as a way to share and expand audiences.