Classes with 200 students could soon expand to include thousands if UT follows through with plans to launch online courses open to individuals around the world.
UT is in discussions with Coursera and edX, mass distributors of free online content from the nation’s elite universities, to negotiate a partnership. If a deal is reached, individuals not enrolled at the University would be able to access and enroll in online versions of select on-campus courses for free.
Harrison Keller, vice provost for higher education policy, is spearheading the effort and said the mass distribution of free online courses will help draw new students to the University.
“Of Coursera’s students, three-fourths are outside of the country, and this signals what expectations are like for these programs,” Keller said. “We want to share some of the amazing faculty and educational opportunities with a broader audience statewide, across the nation and abroad.”
Keller said a partnership with Coursera or edX will be an experimental phase, and no credit will be given for courses. Effectiveness and further development of the online courses will be discussed after the University collects course and audience data from the test run, Keller said.
UT has not released any information about which courses will be distributed.
Massive open online courses are fairly new to higher education. Coursera and edX each launched within the last year.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard University make up edX’s higher education participants. Some of Coursera’s 20 participants include Stanford University, the University of Virginia, Duke University and Rice University in Houston.
Rice University Provost George McLendon said Rice is testing massive open online courses as a supplement to large classes to pinpoint advantages and disadvantages.
“Students taking classes like chemistry, which are often 200- to 500-person courses, are already doing distance education if they’re sitting past the fourth row,” he said. “Is it actually better to be in this giant class or is it better to have the same lectures made available in a different format on your own time and use class time for problem-solving?”
McLendon said Rice will focus on whether online courses will benefit its current students. He said Rice is not primarily concerned with how this technology will benefit individuals worldwide not enrolled at the university.
Rice is testing the program through an interactive programming course on Coursera. Currently, the course includes 50 Rice undergraduates and about 25,000 national and international participants.
UT currently offers 54 online, self-paced college courses through the University Extension program. Both students and individuals not enrolled at UT can take these courses.
The massive open online courses are not intended to be a substitute for University Extension, UT spokesperson Tara Doolittle said. She said University Extension classes are more comprehensive than instructor-led open online courses.
Students can choose to take University Extension courses for credit or no credit and must pay tuition to enroll. Courses offered include accounting, introductory biology and American government.
The University’s Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning also offers free online course content and educational resources.
The initiative to create the massive open online courses falls in line with UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s Framework for Advancing Excellence, an action plan adopted by the UT System last year. Online and blended learning makes up one of the framework’s nine pillars. Cigarroa reported good progress on the initiative at the Board of Regents’ meeting last week.
Kenneth Green, founding director of the California research group Campus Computing Project, has been analyzing online learning and said business models have yet to be defined. He also said it is not clear how individual faculty or institutions will benefit financially based on figures presented by Coursera.
“The best way to look at massive open online courses is that they’re a journey of discovery,” Green said. “There is certainly a lot of interest on the demand side.”
Green said other key questions surrounding massive open online courses include course completion credibility without accreditation.
The University is expected to announce its decision in the next few weeks, but funding and a release timeline are still under consideration.
Printed on Thursday, August 30, 2012 as: UT partnership to expand free online content