U. of Illinois at Springfield Offers New ‘Massive Open Online Course’

What happens when you invite the whole world to join an online class?

As The Chronicle reported last year, a growing number of educators are giving that idea a try by offering free “massive open online courses,” or MOOC’s, to anyone who wants to learn. Today, that experimental idea gained some more traction in mainstream higher education. The University of Illinois at Springfield announced a new not-for-credit MOOC devoted to examining the state of online education and where e-learning is heading. Nearly 500 people from two dozen countries have registered so far, with 1,000 expected to sign up by the time the course begins next Monday.

These courses are part of a small but expanding push toward “open teaching.” Universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have offered free educational materials online for years, but the new breed of open teachers—at the University of Florida, Brigham Young University, and the University of Regina, among other places—is now giving away the learning experience, too.

The idea for the Springfield course grew out of a presentation called “The Open Future of Higher Education” delivered at a conference this spring by Ray Schroeder, director of Springfield’s Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service.

“The discussions there led me to more deeply consider the path of online learning in this era of a ‘higher education bubble,’” Mr. Schroeder said, referring to PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel’s recent claim that college is comparable to previously overvalued markets in technology and housing. Another influence was the concept of an “Open Educational Resources University,” which, as Mr. Schroeder explains it, involves students learning from freely available materials and then seeking certification of their knowledge from traditional universities.

“I found that many others also were taking stock and questioning where we are headed,” Mr. Schroeder added.

Various online-learning leaders are participating in Mr. Schroeder’s course, which runs through August 19. Not enough MOOC for you? Stay tuned. Starting in September, another group will organize what the MOOC pioneer George Siemens calls the “Mother of all MOOCs.”

In a blog post Monday, Mr. Siemens welcomed the growing interest from traditional universities. And he countered the more skeptical take offered by another open-education leader, David Wiley, who wrote recently that “MOOCs and their like are not the answer to higher-education’s problems.”

“I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that we are at a similar point to open online learning that we experienced with the growth of the LMS (learning-management system) in the late 90s,” Mr. Siemens wrote. “While some have argued that MOOCs are limited in their appeal—mainly for professional development and highly prepared individuals—I believe MOOCs will continue to be easier to develop and deliver as the growing number of institutions develop pedagogies … and new technologies to run the events.”

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