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State of the MOOC

Rhe concept of leveraging MOOCs as a data-rich marketing vehicle is new but gaining a foothold

The exploding popularity of MOOCs is beginning to open up a mother lode of data about prospective students that colleges and universities can use for marketing and recruitment purposes.

MOOCs are still in their infancy stages, and the concept of leveraging their reach as a data-rich marketing vehicle for the institution is even newer. But it’s beginning to gain a foothold.

In the fall semester of 2001, I taught an online course for the first time. Sept. 11, 2001 was traumatic and life changing for millions of people worldwide. But for students, staff, and faculty at Borough of Manhattan Community College, the events of 9/11 were visceral.

Seven students working in the Twin Towers were killed, the newly renovated Fiterman Hall was destroyed when 7 World Trade Center collapsed, and many students and faculty witnessed the destruction from a very close range.

There’s no shortage of options for administrators to consider when looking to make decisions from MOOC enrollment data. Here are some ideas suggested by Sam Burgio and Rick Tomlinson, of Jenzabar; Katie Blot and Jarl Jonas, of Blackboard; and Caitlin Garrett, of Rapid Insight:

Syracuse University, which has offered MOOCs in data science and librarianship, has used CourseSites to download user information and export it into Excel.

The Syracuse data science MOOC was designed principally to showcase the school’s new certificate of advanced study in the field, says Peggy M. Brown, director of instructional design and an adjunct professor in the School of Information Studies.

Officials at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio have developed a MOOC consistent with its mission as a two-year school that provides developmental education, particularly in math, to get prospective students up to speed.

Participants in MIT’s about-to-launch “XSeries” MOOCs on computer science will get about three courses-worth of instruction that should give them a strong jump start on future studies or prepare them for a summer internship, senior lecturer Chris Terman says.

While digital technologies have become central to our society and our lives in higher education, the continuing development of the internet, mobile phone applications, and social media brings the need for up-to-date professional development. Indeed, standing still with digital technology means we are falling behind, and your staff needs continuing opportunities to evaluate and implement new online options.

Judith Shapiro, former president and professor of anthropology at Barnard College in New York City from 1994 to 2008.

Judith Shapiro, former president and professor of anthropology at Barnard College in New York City from 1994 to 2008, had been “happily retired” before assuming the leadership role at the Teagle Foundation in July. The New York-based foundation’s grant-making is focused on improving undergraduate student learning in the arts and sciences.

There's already an array of networks, online discussion boards, and forums where administrators are sharing best practices for MOOCs.

Michigan State University’s first massive open online course—Metropolitan Agriculture Value Creation—attracted 400 people from around the globe interested in learning about new ways to produce food in urban areas. Launched in March 2012, the course was built on a WordPress website and students communicated with one another via Facebook and Twitter.

When Cornell University joined the edX consortium last May, the impetus came not only from professors who wanted to offer MOOCs but also from prospective students who were asking admissions officers about whether the university provided these courses.

“They were hearing from high school students that if you are going to be a modern university, you have to participate in this,” says Joe Burns, Cornell’s dean of faculty and member of a committee that considered whether the university should affiliate with a consortium.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have undeniable appeal: they can support hundreds of thousands of students, are accessible to all, are taught by top faculty at prestigious universities, and, of course, are free…at least for now.

It’s hard to follow higher education news these days without seeing a reference to MOOCs. The online learning platforms from edX, Coursera, Udacity, and others were launched to great fanfare over the last two years. Proponents praise them for their potential to change education, while critics chalk them up as more hype than hope.

Although the in-house work in preparing traditional classes to be taught online can be overwhelming, the vast majority of colleges and universities do not to use third-party vendors for online course development. Ottawa University, based in Kansas but with locations across the country, has its own curriculum design studio, says Brian Messer, vice president of online.

Is it time for MOOC 2.0? Those behind World Education University (WEU) think so. The free online university opened its virtual doors worldwide on February 1.

Scott Hines, WEU’s chief operating officer, doesn’t mind the comparison to MOOC providers such as Coursera, which he sees as great trail blazers. But he sees WEU as the next step in the evolutionary process of online learning.

How might a company or institution profit from a MOOC? Here are eight possible strategies, as outlined in Coursera's contract with the University of Michigan.