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Colleges Divided over Value of Free Online Classes


									         LATEST HEADLINES

                                                   Colleges Divided
                                                  over Value of Free
                                                    Online Classes
                                      By STEPHANIE WANG/The Indianapolis Star
                                        MUNCIE, Ind.         is piloting this spring – the university will be monitoring
                                     (AP) – In her           their progress and gathering loads of data.
                                     largest traditional
college class, Ball State University instructor Christina       “We want to investigate and understand how we can
Blanch taught 80 students – the most the fire code           use new, innovative course design and course tools,”
would allow in the classroom.                                said Jennifer Bott, assistant provost for learning
                                                             initiatives at Ball State.
   Now she’s fielding tweets and e-mails from some
5,000 students around the world enrolled in her                 “The massive courses give us an opportunity to see
upcoming massive online open course called Gender large-scale what might work.”
Through Comic Books.
                                                                Ball State caught the national buzz around MOOCs,
   Among those international pupils are comic geeks Bott said. The cost of experimenting amounted to the
and scholars. Some are students at other universities.       time of faculty and staff to produce new courses. And
                                                             MOOCs could yield valuable data about how to foster
   “They’re not getting credit for this. They’re doing this online learning communities that the university could
because they want to,” Blanch told The Indianapolis use in its regular classes.
Star. “If I could just shake every one of their hands and
say, ‘I’m just so proud of you for wanting to learn.’”          “The reward was higher than any risk that I could
                                                             coherently identify,” she said.
   Massive online open courses, or MOOCs, are the
latest craze in learning. They’re exactly what they sound       Blanch’s free, six-week course pulls some material
like: big online classes, often free, that just about anyone from the on-campus version that she has taught but
can take anywhere, any time – but usually not toward a tweaks the curriculum for the Web. She nixed an in-
college degree.                                              class activity that had students read comic books in
                                                             public to observe people’s reactions to men versus
   Bursting onto the scene last summer, MOOCs are women, because it might not be culturally appropriate in
gaining momentum as national and state leaders re- other countries.
evaluate higher education. Some herald MOOCs as a
revolutionary way to target major learning concerns             On the flip side, leading the class online allows her to
such as affordability and accessibility.                     post video responses to common questions instead of
                                                             responding to students individually.
   But even as Ball State, some elite universities and Big
Ten institutions experiment with the courses, other             “We’re all on a steep learning curve,” Blanch said.
Indiana colleges are taking a wait-and-see attitude.         “But we are learning.”

   “MOOCs are clearly a very interesting technical         One of the challenges is trying to guess which
phenomenon,” said Gerry McCartney, Purdue teaching techniques will work best – and which won’t
University’s chief information officer. “But they’re a work at all.
marketing device. They’re not an educational device.
Not in their current form.”                                Dylan Starks once took a college anthropology
                                                         course online and found it pretty boring. But the
   Still, Indiana educators are watching the fad very interactive aspect of MOOCs makes him hope Gender
closely. At the very least, MOOCs could be catalysts for Through Comic Books will engage students more.
                                                           “I’m actually not sure what to expect,” said Starks,
   As students convene on the Internet to discuss 24, an artist with Indianapolis-based hat company LIDS.
Blanch’s course – one of three MOOCs that Ball State
   A recent Ball State graduate, Starks said online           Purdue haven’t taken the leap into MOOCs yet. The
discussions – particularly those done over video – could      courses make learning more accessible and affordable,
be more robust than the traditional college lecture,          but officials say they still wonder what MOOCs are
where few students participate even if hundreds are           worth.
                                                         Both schools say they prefer to focus on improving
  Intrigued by using comic books to learn, Starks will online efforts that benefit their tuition-paying, degree-
do the coursework at night or on weekends.             seeking students.

    “I’m really interested in kind of just getting dialogue     “We’re trying to be very careful with the Indiana
started. Even though I can’t show a college credit or a       University reputation and what people in the state of
little certificate, I’ll just know that personally I was a    Indiana expect from us,” said Barbara Bichelmeyer, IU’s
part of this, and hopefully get the ball rolling for future   online education office director and associate vice
courses like this.”                                           president of university academic planning and policy.

  MOOCs aren’t a wholly new concept. Educators have        IU announced last fall an $8 million, three-year
been exploring distance learning and online classes for initiative to expand its online education.
                                                           “Our students are pushing us to consider how we use
  About a decade ago, a few elite colleges experimented online as part of a good-quality, effective, affordable and
with putting content online for the general community. convenient educational experience,” Bichelmeyer said.
Massachusetts       Institute      of     Technology’s
OpenCourseWare and Columbia University’s now-              “What we’re learning from online,” she added, “is
defunct Fathom project were two of those early startups. helping us revisit how we deliver on-campus programs.”

   In this latest wave, several MOOC websites launched     At Purdue, tech chief McCartney is keeping an eye
last year, including one called Coursera and another, on MOOCs.
edX, that was born from MIT and Harvard. Across the
various platforms, dozens of universities have developed   “There’s a threat here,” he said. “We have to watch
free classes at introductory levels and in specialty what’s going on. Does that mean we have to jump up
niches.                                                  and down like crazy? Not necessarily.”

   In all, MOOCs have recorded four million                 The key, McCartney says, would be to combine the
registrations, said Cathy Sandeen, the American Council broad reach of MOOCs with other innovations that
for Education’s vice president of education attainment ensure a quality education.
and innovation.
                                                             In its own technology experiments, Purdue has
   Most students seem to fall in the category of lifelong created a system, Signals, that can detect when students
learners – people older than college-aged students, who are struggling in class.
are seeking intellectual pursuit just for fun.
                                                             The university also has a Passport program of
   The American Council for Education recently won a “badges” – a kind of online credit that students can earn
grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to from mastering certain skills.
study MOOCs. Among the questions to answer: Who
are the students enrolling in MOOCs, and how well are        “Tie it all together,” he said, “and now we’re cooking
they learning? Can MOOCs count toward college a little bit.”
credits? How can MOOCs be integrated into traditional
universities?                                                ___

   “It’s still evolving,” Sandeen said. “I think the jury’s     Information from: The Indianapolis Star
still out whether this will revolutionize higher education,
but I think we’re seeing a high level of interest and             To see some of our FREE articles,
experimentation.”                                                           sign up here!
  One standout statistic: Despite the flood of interest
and hype surrounding MOOCs, Sandeen says the                              Visit our website:
courses have just a 9 percent completion rate.               
  That’s part of the reason Indiana University (IU) and

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