MOOCs program continues to expand

Matthew Adams

Since the UT System move began enrollment for massive open online courses in 2013, also known as MOOCs, the program has expanded to reach a wide audience of students.

MOOCs are free online courses and are open to anyone who wants to enroll. Currently, the System has 24 MOOCs across four campuses. At UT-Austin, there are 19 courses with over 493,000 students. This nearly doubled the approximate 281,000 students who enrolled between fall 2013 and spring 2014.

“MOOCs were viewed as a way to project the UT presence globally, accelerate the development of new technology on campuses and showcase our leading faculty,” Steven Mintz, executive director of the UT System’s Institute for Transformational Learning, said. “Since 2013 when the first MOOCs appeared, more than 585,000 students registered in mid August. They have gone up since then so we are probably looking at 600,000 or more.”

As part of this expansion, Mintz said the UT campuses are experimenting with different ways of delivering these courses across the world. Currently UT has a sublicensing agreement with a foundation in Jordan to translate the UT-Austin MOOCs into Arabic, and the University works with universities in China to translate courses into Mandarin.  

Harrison Keller, deputy to the president for strategy and policy, said UT is continuing to address the design of the courses.

“When we started putting courses up on the edX platform, we really didn’t have any idea who might take these courses,” Keller said. “We’ve learned a lot from the data from the part about the learner participation in these courses. We are starting to look within courses about presentations or designs of online learning in general.”

Germanic studies professor John Hoberman, who taught the “Age of Globalization” in 2013 and 2014, said he recalled a lot of people participating in his course from the United States, India, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

Teaching a large group of people, Hoberman said the work they completed showed MOOCs are just another way to educate people.

“I was very impressed, most of all, by the online discussions that these people from all over the world were having,” Hoberman said. “One of these lessons for people that do these things is that people who complete the course for a certificate … were prepared to do it. It is not a matter of lifting people up from one level to another, as it’s serving the needs of people who are capable of doing this work.”

Hoberman said he was happy to teach this course at the University, but decided not to teach it again because of the time commitment to produce this kind of course.

Between fall 2013 and spring 2014, only 1–3 percent completed the courses. Hoberman said he does not see low completion rates as a problem.

“All of the MOOCs I’ve ever heard of, there will be a steep drop off in the number of people who actually commit to take the course,” Hoberman said. “That is, the people who will stick with it are the ones who really want to do it.”