Mays Business School

MOOCs: The Future or a Fad?

In the past year, there have been few topics discussed more frequently at universities than the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). MOOCs are online courses aimed at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums for students, professors and teaching assistants.

MOOCs began with a course in artificial intelligence, offered by Sebastian Thrun of Stanford and Peter Norvig of Google. The current inventory of courses at three leading platforms (Coursera, edX, and Udacity) now numbers almost 500, with more courses being added every day. In fact, the New York Times labeled 2012 the “Year of the MOOC.”

How will MOOCs change higher education? Opinions range from MOOCs replacing traditional delivery of courses in university curricula to being a passing fad. While MOOCs certainly provide student convenience and instructional economies of scale, critics lament the potential for a one-directional learning experience where students cannot easily and effectively interact with a faculty member or their peers. Completion rates for MOOC courses are also notoriously low. A bioelectricity course offered by Duke University had more than 12,000 enrollments; however, only 7,761 watched even a single video, 3,658 attempted one quiz and 313 successfully completed the course.

To satisfy my own curiosity, I enrolled and completed two MOOCs this past year (one in finance and one in economics). I found it convenient to access the course on demand and helpful to be able to revisit concepts through the video. However, I asked myself the question as to whether a MOOC platform could provide the learning environment and experiences we provide students at Mays. And, my answer was “no.” In January 2013, San Jose State University made a highly publicized decision to provide academic credit for MOOCs, but seven months later, they have decided to put the project on hold.

So what is the future? The advantages of MOOCs, coupled with a traditional classroom element, might be the answer. As an accounting professor, MOOC delivery gives me the opportunity to cover the mechanics of journalizing transactions in an online video, while allowing students to reference the video to clarify and reinforce concepts. In class, we could focus on analyzing the transactions, rather than the rote skill of recording the transactions. Some of our faculty at Mays are experimenting with this approach (“flipping the classroom”) and are reporting very positive experiences.

Filed under: Academia