MOOCs in Minnesota

October 17, 2012, 7:21 am

I just completed my second MOOC, the “Securing Digital Democracy” course from Coursera. Emboldened by actually completing it with a passing grade I’ve jumped into another Coursera offering, this time “Introduction to Interactive Python“. My colleague John Golden and I are both taking it, and yesterday John tweeted:

Which got this attention-getting reply from Bret Benesh:

Further down the conversation, Bret pointed to this quote in the Coursera terms of service:

Notice for Minnesota Users

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.

This seems almost like a joke. And it raises some questions:

  1. How does Minnesota plan on enforcing this law with respect to its citizens? Coursera can’t block its content from Minnesota, so residents are going to have access to it if they have access to the internet at all. So how is Minnesota going to keep them from going to class?
  2. What does Minnesota consider to be an “online course”? Would the various Khan Academy offerings be considered online courses, and if so, has Khan Academy gotten authorization from the state of Minnesota to offer them? If the answers are “yes” and “no” then this reverts back to the previous question — there are Minnesota institutions such as the Minnesota Literacy Council that have openly endorsed the use of Khan Academy for flipping the classroom, and it wouldn’t surprise me to find these online resources in regular use in Minnesota public schools and universities being widely used.
  3. The law restricts universities from offering online courses. Does this mean Minnesota considers Coursera to be a university? That seems like quite a statement.
  4. Where did this statute come from, anyway? Was it passed specifically as an anti-MOOC measure? Is it a relic from a previous era before online education was widespread and freely available and doesn’t really work any more? Or what? What’s the context for the law?

Finally, I see a strong potential for a cottage industry: Set up a chain of coffee shops with free internet access and on-site tutors just across Minnesota’s borders for Minnesotans to cross over and take their MOOCs.

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