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the future of college
Toward a Global MOOC Consortium

When MOOCs first came onto the scene in 2008, they were greeted with excitement and sometimes heady optimism by higher education reformers and Silicon Valley futurists alike. But then the technology began to face challenges—in particular, low completion rates and licensing problems—and MOOC fever started to break as it became clear that online delivery wouldn’t transform higher education overnight. As we’ve noted, however, technology of this sort is a moving target and is likely to improve over time—and recently MOOCs have indeed made some progress. Last month, Georgia Tech’s online degree program graduated its first class of computer science master’s students, each of whom paid less than 20 percent the cost of the traditional, brick-and-mortar program. And now it looks like major universities from around the world are throwing their weight behind MOOCs in a big way. Inside Higher Education reports:

Six universities from Australia, Europe, Canada and the U.S. are seeking to establish a new alliance in which each organization’s massive open online courses (MOOCs) are formally accredited by partner institutions […]

The proposed system — involving Delft University of Technology, ETH Zurich — Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, the Australian National University, the University of Queensland, the University of British Columbia and Boston University — is believed to be the first international initiative relating to online courses.

As one official from Delft University told IHE, this type of MOOC consortium, if it comes off, “would massively expand the range of MOOCs on offer and their value to students.” It would also ultimately reduce the amount of time and money students need to put in to earning a degree.

Only one American university is participating in this initial effort, but more are likely to join if it turns out to work—so it’s important that the initial participants get it right, as, judging by this story, they seem determined to do. As we reported yesterday, the evidence continues to accumulate that the current higher education delivery method is unsustainable. Tuition is rising and rising, but returns on the investment are not. Something needs to change to start restraining costs, and soon, or the whole edifice will come tumbling down. And online education is once again looking like it could help deliver the shock that the higher education industry desperately needs.

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  • Jim__L

    I bears repeating…

    Clean out the Political Officers — the Title IX offices that can’t even pursue real harassment claims, the Multicult high priests, the endless “Studies” fluff — then clear out the resort-level perks. Push to get the robber barons of Elsevier out of the academic paper racket, too.

    There is no earthly reason college tuition can’t be half what it is now. Period.

    • Andrew Allison

      Actually, as the post posits, it’s 20%.

      • Jim__L

        If you clean house a bit, residential college would see its price drop too.

        • GS

          great heavens. Re-read “the Bell Curve”. Even if all education was offered for free, far from everyone is capable of absorbing it at each and every meaningful level. And as Murray and Herrnstein wrote 21 years ago, those manifestly capable are not unduly hobbled – they do find support.

          • Jim__L

            I really doubt that full rides (or even tuition reduction to the point that onerous are unnecessary) is available to every capable student. Could you back that up?

          • GS

            Define “capable”. Capable of what? If of defecation, then surely not to everyone so enabled, and thank heavens for that. Capable of serious [i.e. proper, in the old, not dumbed-down, sense] college work? -Yes, see the analysis in that same Bell Curve, with the stats. These students comprise at most 10% of their age cohort [IQ 120 and higher], and we herd into colleges about 50%.

  • Ofer Imanuel

    I wonder about motivation. As far as I can tell (and I did about 15 MOOCs in Cousera and edx), the main failing of MOOCs is that they are not accredited. Isn’t accreditation suicidal for American universities?

    • johngbarker

      I am curious, how did the MOOCs compare to regular college classes?

      • Ofer Imanuel

        Content-wise, on par. A text book is substituted with online materials. Lecturers (except in one class) were good to excellent. Tests are limited to multiple choice or a number, and have to assume open books. If you are really set on cheating, you can cheat, as nothing is preventing you from getting a friend to come and help.

    • Andrew Allison

      The point is that they are going to be.

  • ljgude

    As an American long resident in Australia one of the things I noticed in my career in higher Ed here was that Australia was simply way ahead in delivering distance education – for the simple reason that the distances here are truly huge. Australia delivered primary education to individual children on remote stations (think ranch) since the 20s. I researched distance ed delivery to remote Aboriginal communities in the 90s which is very important because remote Aboriginal people do not fare well if they leave their communities and attend a school in even in a small regional center, never mind one of the great capital cities. In a word they get homesick so delivering the coursework to remote communities is critical. Even using now obsolete technology such as fax machines, conference phones and the like Australian universities and TAFE (like US Community Colleges) were successfully delivering courses not just to indigenous communities but also to regular students thousands of kilometers away routinely. I am pretty sure Australian distance ed experience will help international efforts of this kind get up to speed more quickly. Also, good to see that some of these new players are not trying to charge 90% of what they charge for the bricks and mortar equivalent. Finally, I recently encountered a commercial venture which was a bit more expensive but offered much more individual attention in a photography education program called the thearcanum dot com hosted on Google Plus. Groups on the scale of 30 are hosted by a ‘master’ and run through Social Media tools to a world wide audience irrespective of timezone. There is no reason why MOOCs can’t employ such strategies to deliver courses that require more individual attention – at an increased cost I would expect.

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