Global Campus receives $10K in funding from MOOC study


CMU's online education programs are ranked among the best in the nation. (The Miami Herald/MCT)

Central Michigan University's Global Campus received $10,000 in funding last week for participation in a study of free Massively Open Online Courses.

Mary Starnes, director of education and professional development for Global Campus, said the funds available for the 2013-14 academic year will be handled by the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

"The study is administered through the Global Campus and would involve coordination with other university offices including the Registrar's (Office), Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and Admissions," Starnes said.

Originating in 2008, a MOOC, or Massively Open Online Course, allows large numbers of people to take online courses free-of-charge from providers including Udacity or Coursera. Universities across the country including Harvard and Stanford are providing courses in the format while other universities are taking note.

"Elite universities are partnering with Coursera at a furious pace," a Nov. 2012 article from the New York Times said. "It now offers courses from 33 of the biggest names in postsecondary education, including Princeton, Brown, Columbia and Duke."

The major difference between a regular, brick-and-mortar classroom environment and an Internet-based MOOC, is the lack of face-to-face communication between classmates and the instructor. The bulk of coursework – lectures, videos, slideshows and turning in homework – remain in MOOCs.

The study will be used to determine if students who take courses via MOOCs could transfer the credits to a university.

“CMU, like most higher education institutions, is focusing on success and retention of students,” she said. “This project creates one more opportunity to inform us as strategy and practices are instituted.”

Six other schools, including Kaplan University, Regis University and Western Carolina University, are involved in the study.

Commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the study is being undertaken by the American Center on Education with assistance by the University Continuing Education Association.

Cathy Sandeen, vice president for education attainment and innovation at ACE, said they look at how MOOCs could integrate into already-existing degree programs.

Primarily, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was interested in seeing how MOOCs could help students complete their degrees with greater efficiency.

Sandeen used math as an example.

“'If they transfer in with a calculus course, how well will they do in other math courses?'" she asked. "That's a question we might ask.”

The courses being evaluated in the study include developmental math and college algebra. These courses were offered and chosen by two different MOOC providers, Udacity and Coursera.

Universities involved in the study can decide whether or not credit from this MOOC will count toward a student's degree requirements.

Results of the study could be three years away, Starnes said.

The funding could also be extended beyond the first year of availability.

Are MOOCs effective?

The effectiveness of MOOCs has come into question since their growth in popularity more two years ago.

Dennis St. John, a college algebra instructor at CMU, said MOOCs for developmental math courses can be problematic for students.

“If they're in a developmental math class, they need lots of attention, lots of time and the MOOCs don't necessarily devote those resources. Though more and more MOOCs are starting to do that,” St. John said.

He said providing feedback on a student's work in a MOOC is also difficult.

St. John does not see MOOCs in CMU's immediate future, but acknowledged their benefits.

“It's not to say they couldn't work quite nicely down the road, but at this point, I don't see anything on the horizon for us, (even) though there are some neat ones out there,” he said. “It turns out they're not bad for people who are highly motivated and very bright, who might have been able to learn some of the content on their own in the first place.”

Sandeen added that MOOC popularity has been on the decline since more than a year ago.

“There is not as much demand from degree-seeking students as we anticipated,” she said. “Still, I think there is some way that MOOCs may help students.”

For example, people who want to take college courses again after a lengthy absence might want to use a MOOC, she said.

“If they're successful, wouldn't it be great to use that credit for a credential or a degree?” Sandeen asked.


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