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Professors Grade MOOCs

How well do massively open online courses (MOOCs) actually work? We’ve come at this question from the perspective of students and researchers. What do the professors who actually teach these classes think?

The Chronicle of Higher Education sent a short questionnaire to 184 professors who have taught a MOOC, asking them about the experience of teaching online, the differences between online classes and regular courses, and where they see the technology going in the future.

As one might expect from a group of professors, many of whom have a vested interest in the status quo, the answers of the 103 who responded were mixed. On the positive side, these professors agreed overwhelmingly that MOOCs will fulfill much of their promise: 85 percent believe that online ed will help lower the price of a degree, and many believe that online coursework will eventually be integrated into mainstream college curriculum  In addition, 79 percent came away with a positive view of MOOCs, believing that they deserve the hype they have received.

But despite the enthusiasm and steps by institutions like the University of California to allow students to receive credit for courses taken online, few of the professors believe that MOOCs will change the way credits are allocated. Sixty-six percent believe that their schools will never give full credit for online work—and only 28 percent believe students would even deserve such credit. Professors are clearly unconvinced that MOOCs will be as transformative as we and many others believe (but again, let’s not forget that these people potentially have the most to lose if MOOCs begin to displace traditional college courses).

Beyond the headline data, the survey revealed plenty of interesting insights into what goes on behind the scenes of a successful online course. One finding confirms something we’ve suspected for some time: Running a MOOC is hard work:

Typically a professor spent over 100 hours on his MOOC before it even started, by recording online lecture videos and doing other preparation. Others laid that groundwork in a few dozen hours.

Once the course was in session, professors typically spent eight to 10 hours per week on upkeep. Most professors managed not to be inundated with messages from their MOOC students—they typically got five e-mails per week—but it was not unusual for a professor to be drawn into the discussion forums. Participation in those forums varied, but most professors posted at least once or twice per week, and some posted at least once per day.

As the Chronicle notes, a survey of just over a hundred college professors is hardly a representative sample. Nonetheless, it provides an interesting inside look at the changes occurring in higher ed, and is worth reading in full.

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