Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have captured the headlines in higher education in the past year. These new platforms were developed to enable both open access and large scale participation in online courses. Many top tier universities are joining the MOOCs bandwagon, afraid of missing an important piece of the Web-based phenomenon. It is our goal as educators to assess whether or not they can become a best practice in online learning.
A MOOC course is typically structured as a pre-recorded lecture divided into segments. A weekly assignment is designed to assess a student’s ability to solve a well defined problem with a precise solution. The problem with this format is that no student support services are assigned to the course and the student gets very little, if any, feedback on their assignment. No faculty-student interactions are part of this scenario, which is crucial for the success of online education. In one instance, an MIT MOOC course included 155,000 registrations but only 7,157 successfully completed the course.
The grading system has also presented a problem in assessing student’s true capabilities. Coursera, one of the developers of MOOCs platforms, is using a peer grading system to deal with the size of the programs and encountered numerous cases of alleged plagiarism. Right now, the business models for the various initiatives are somewhat obscure; it is difficult to show how participating institutions can financially benefit from these collaborations. Of course, learning institutions must have successful business models.