Friday, November 2, 2012

It's raining MOOCs

MOOC! by AJC1, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  AJC1

If you're a MOOC watcher you simply can't afford to look away for a few days. This week has been particularly dramatic with yet another distribution channel plus the emergence of a new licensing model offering credit for MOOCs.

Firstly there's a new kid on the MOOC block. Instructure's open source LMS platform Canvas has started it's own MOOC-hosting service called Canvas Network. Universities and other educational organisations already using the Canvas LMS can offer a course as a MOOC via Canvas Network and allow anyone to join the course. The course runs on the university's own platform and Canvas Network is the shop window where the course can be marketed. Already the site offers a range of intersting courses from institutions like Ball State University, University of Washington, University of Utah as well as other providers. One particularly interesting course in the initial offering is Introduction to Openness in Education, featuring David Wiley, one of the foremost figures in the open education movement.

Here's the Canvas Network introduction video:

Audrey Watters comments on this news in an article The LMS Instructure Enters the MOOC Fray stating that Canvas Network offers institutions the chance to test the MOOC water without having to buy into a completely new environment, as in edX or Coursera. Universities can stay in the familiar environment of their own learning management system but still run a MOOC.

“MOOCs are a feature of, but they’re not the only future of education,” ... That might be quite a reassuring message to universities worried about how they should respond to this latest MOOC craze. With Canvas Network, they’ll be able to respond using tools they’re familiar with — tools they’ve paid for. That places them in a very different relationship with their open online course offerings than does the agreements schools are signing with Coursera.

MOOCs with credits

So with yet another MOOC channel in the fray there's still the question of getting credible credentials for informal learning. Already a few colleges are offering to validate student work from a MOOC and offer the option of submitting supplementary work to get credits (at a fee of course). However this week's biggest piece of MOOC news was the deal between Antioch University and Coursera whereby students at Antioch can study a Coursera MOOC with extra tuition and guidance from an Antioch teacher leading to real credits (see press release).

"Antioch University is the first US institution to receive approval from Coursera to offer college credit for specified Coursera MOOCs (massive open online courses). Through this new partnership, Antioch University and the Antioch University Los Angeles campus can reduce student costs to complete a four-year degree and expand course offerings through free online courses offered by the highly respected universities that have partnered with Coursera. This course access will directly benefit learners that Antioch University serves and is a demonstration of Antioch University’s long commitment to innovation, experiential learning and student engagement through high-quality education."

Students at Antioch can choose to study a facilitated MOOC where the entire course has been devised by a Coursera partner university but where Antioch offers the added value of guidance and tuition. The attraction for the student will be lower fees compared to a standard campus course fully provided by the university. This is a further twist to the disaggregation of higher education. Instead of a university being a one-stop shop offering course material, teaching, assessment, examination and certification we're seeing more and more specialists taking care of one aspect and leaving the rest to others.

This trend raises many questions as summarised in an article in Inside Higher EdDid MOOCs Just Make Landfall? 10 Questions to Consider. If MOOCs can be licensed to several universities, will this lead to many institutions offering the same courses from edX, Coursera, Udacity etc. How will teachers at the smaller universities feel providing support to someone else's course? It may not be so negative however since the quality of tuition/facilitation will become the competitive force instead of the quality of the material, thus allowing teachers to focus on teaching (facilitation, constructive criticism, mentorship, guidance) rather than instruction (provided online by the content provider). Are we seeing a further stratification of education with a wide variety of paths to choose between but with a high variation in certification status? 

Read more on the Antioch deal in another article from Inside Higher Ed, MOOCs for credit

We all await the next instalment.

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