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MIT Ignores Naysayers, Goes All-In on MOOCs


Anti-MOOC fervor gathered steam this week with the publication of a deflating interview with Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun, but MIT, for one, remains unfazed. In a recent report on the future direction of the school, MIT devoted considerable space to edX, which it considers one of the central pieces of its growth strategy in the coming years. MIT may even be looking to break away from the four-year college model altogether. As edX president Anant Agarwal tells Inside Higher Ed:

An education from MIT may soon involve a freshman year spent completing online courses, two years on campus and a fourth “year” of continuous education. While students pursue their careers, they could access a growing library of online courses to refresh their knowledge, Agarwal said.

“As we blend the courses, universities will take the next step,” Agarwal said. “We would be woven into the fabric of universities. And as long as we’re adding value, we have no qualms about that.”

MIT’s report also mentions the growth of more than 860 “edX communities” around the world that have sprouted up around edX courses:

MIT alumni can play an important role in these communities by acting as nucleating agents and catalysts, and serving both as anchors to the community and as coaches and mentors. Partner universities could also play a role in this regard.

In fact, we have already tested this idea through a project with the city of Chicago called ChicagoX. MIT alumni acted as mentors to students in Chicago who took a computer science course offered by MITx through edX. The experiment was a success, with alumni reporting mostly good experiences and a willingness to try again. The alumni were also able to give MIT constructive feedback about the experience and about the software platform. We intend to try a larger-scale experiment in spring 2014.

MIT students can also benefit by visiting learning communities around the world, acting as local coaches and mentors and creating a sense of connection with MIT. We experimented with this in summer 2013, when 10 MIT students trained on the MISTI (MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives) platform visited four countries and acted as MITx ambassadors during their MISTI internships. We believe this form of learning by teaching will be a new and growing opportunity for MIT students in the same way that the Peace Corps was a generation ago.

For MOOCs, it seems, the future is still bright.

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  • lukelea

    Moocs work best in the hard sciences where students’ factual knowledge, theoretical understanding, and problem-solving ability can be rigorously assessed. It is not even essential to finish a course if you can ace the final exam (without cheating). This is a great thing for the top .0001 percent scattered around the world, many of them not even in their teens yet.

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