For New Course, U. of Oklahoma Seeks Boost From Old Media

Many colleges are turning to online “enablers” to help them get new online courses off the ground, but the University of Oklahoma is looking to generate buzz through an older channel: cable television.

Oklahoma is producing a new course with the History Channel, which will provide content from its archive and advertising on its airwaves.

The 16-week course, which covers American history since 1865, will be open to both credit-seeking students and noncredit learners, although it is “emphatically not a MOOC,” according to Kyle Harper, the university’s interim senior vice president and provost. Enrollment will be limited, and participants will have the opportunity to interact with the professor and teaching assistants, who will grade their work.

In other words, the course will not amount to watching a Ken Burns documentary series and then taking a test. Students will be able to communicate with one another, and use online textbook materials, via the university’s online platform.

Also, everybody will have to pay: $500 if a student is seeking credit, $250 if not. The university and the History Channel will split revenue from the course down the middle.

The university hopes the visibility provided by its cable-TV partner will help it recruit new students, especially high-school students who want to earn their first few college credits at a discounted rate. Students often try to reduce the amount they pay for an Oklahoma degree by earning cheaper credits elsewhere—through Advanced Placement or community-college courses—and then transferring those credits, says Mr. Harper. Making introductory courses available online at a reduced rate might help the university persuade those students to take those credits at Oklahoma, he says.

A competitive offer to students is only half the battle, though. Colleges pay a lot of money, often to companies that specialize in recruiting, to make sure potential students actually know about their online courses. The History Channel gives the university a foothold in television, while bringing higher production values than would an entry in a course catalog or a pamphlet in a guidance counselor’s office.

“Technology isn’t going to totally transform education, but we should use technology for the things technology is good at,” says Mr. Harper. “And bringing the sights and sounds of history to life is something that technology can be really good at.”

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