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.
“We really take that concept of a cohort-based MOOC and create what we call an on-demand MOOC, which is a self-paced, supported, independent study model,” he says.
Because WEU implements an independent study model, students can enroll, start, and complete courses at any time. Students can also submit transcripts from other institutions, provided they are notarized and translated into english by a third party institution such as the Association of International Credit Evaluators. The registrar’s office will then review the transcripts on a case-by-case basis. Hines says they are pretty open to accepting credits from other schools, as long as the institutions’ standards align with WEU’s. WEU grants degrees and certificates and is free, which Hines says sets them apart from other players in the world of MOOCs.
Hines and WEU’s other co-founder, Curtis Pickering, are both beneficiaries of free education—Hines from the Air Force Academy and Pickering from an athletic scholarship to Lewis and Clark University (Ore.). After meeting, they combined their mutual appreciation for free education with Pickering’s advertising background to brainstorm a sustainable business model for free education.
“The basic rule of thumb of any Silicon Valley IT company is if you can generate millions of eyeballs on a website, you can monetize that and sustain the website,” says Hines.
Advertising is still in product development, but Hines expects ads to start appearing on the homepage, students’ profile dashboards and during “natural” breaks in studies, much like the interstitial ads before a YouTube video, in the coming months. WEU is also in the process of developing sponsorships, which would name curricula, programs, or potentially whole colleges for sponsors. WEU is currently in negotiations with a national IT company to develop such a sponsorship. From a technology standpoint, WEU can sustain a virtually unlimited number of students, he adds.
Set up like a traditional university, WEU has a university president, a dean and two associate deans for each of its eight colleges, and a team of over 150 course developers who serve as instructors, who Hines describes as “subject matter experts.” The president and deans all have PhDs or JDs, as do the nearly 80 percent of the instructors, although in some cases they have master’s degrees coupled with experience.
There are 30 degree programs and the course catalog lists over 250 courses. Students can enroll and take a single course, or earn anything from a certificate, which typically requires about 18 credit hours, to a master’s degree, which would be about 50-55 hours.
Hines says California-based WEU is “dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s” in preparation to submit applications for accreditation this spring through the American Council on Education, Distance Education and Training Council and Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Any online course or program has to ensure that the person registered is the person actually completing the assignments. Accreditors are open to video proctoring but wary of “better” technology that Hines hopes to incorporate into WEU’s system, like keystroke identification, which identifies individuals by unique patterns of typing. He stresses that while WEU values accreditation, “not at the expense of limiting our innovations,” and points to the issue of identity verification.
Three weeks after the launch, WEU had attracted 5,500 active students from 50 countries.The majority of students are in their twenties, what Hines considers traditional college age, or late-twenties to mid-thirties, the mid-level professionals, looking for business or science and engineering degrees.
Hines expects WEU’s competency-based systems to make graduates competitive in developed and developing countries, regardless of accreditation. Hines says the courses are built around Bloom’s Taxonomy but emphasize andragogy, as the majority of WEU students are adults. The assessments are mostly multiple choice based, with written essay and portfolio assessments included in arts and humanities courses. WEU students will demonstrate through these assessments that they have mastered a skill or concept, he says, and those records will be available for potential employers to view.
“Ultimately what employers are really interested in is if the student can perform,” says Hines.