Here's a question worth laying odds on: In what year will the number of college freshman who take at least one class online exceed the number who do not?
Smart money says that year isn't far off.
Ten state university programs, which collectively educate 1.25 million students, said today that they were aligning themselves with online MOOC and education platform, Coursera. "What's different about this is the scale," declares Houston Davis, the chief academic officer for the University of Georgia.
Large public state institutions serve about 70 percent of American students, notes Daphne Koller, cofounder of Coursera. "This agreement is a way of giving institutions access to pedagogy and infrastructure that can help them better serve their students," she says.
The school systems are part of today's announcement include:
- State University of New York (SUNY)
- Tennessee Board of Regents
- University of Tennessee Systems
- University of Colorado System
- University of Houston System
- University of Kentucky
- University of Nebraska
- University of New Mexico
- University System of Georgia
- West Virginia University
Leaders of the school systems suggest that they are still knee-deep in experimenting with using online courses to extend and supplement what they do on campus.
The 64 college and university campuses that are home to 468,000 students in the State University of New York program, for instance, have offered some kind of online class for almost a decade, points out Carey Hatch, SUNY's assistant provost for academic technology and instructional services. During last academic year (2011-12), more than 20 percent of the students (or 87,000 individual students) took an online class; most of them signed up for more than two such classes, he says. Similarly George state universities have also offered online programs for about a decade.
Provosts at both school systems said they expect to use the Coursera platform to offer a few "traditional MOOCs," or large, free classes. They also expect their schools will "consume" or use content and classes created by others. But what also intrigues them is how their faculty and schools may use Coursera's platform to create "foundation classes," or required core curriculum, says Hatch. He cautioned that only a handful of SUNY institutions may create Coursera material for this coming fall.
Eventually Hatch also expects that faculty will explore how to extend classes from the SUNY community colleges to high schools. "Coursera gives us a way to rally around a platform" and better coordinate efforts, he adds.
"We're seeing a lot of institutions use Coursera as a way to improve the quality and capabilities within their own institutions," Koller adds. Instead of requiring hundreds of instructors to prepare materials "from scratch" every year, she says, schools may encourage faculty to dip into programs available on Coursera--either from their own institution or from elsewhere--and create their own blended learning model that combines both on-campus and online work.
made it easy for universities to say yes: It does not require the schools to
put money on the table, instead only charging them for the content they use or offer via the Coursera platform.
Working with state institutions that will the course material to teacher both large and small classes offers fresh challenges for Coursera, too, Koller says. Supporting thousands of students in a MOOC does not, for instance, require a professor to keep a conventional gradebook. By contrast, "when you're teaching on campus, you need a grade book. That's something we'll build more functionality to support," she adds.
Even so with
these partnership, Coursera moves a step closer to its goal of making high
quality education affordable and accessible to a broader array of students,
As for that turning point year: We'd put it at 2015. How about you?