Questions for K-12 as the Niche of Higher Ed Shrinks

The move of a dozen more top universities to join Coursera’s Massive Open Online Courses is all over the news today. If you missed it, try these two articles at the NY Times, and Insider Higher Ed.

Stanford University’s president said last spring that a tsunami is coming. Today, Georgia Tech Computer Science Professor Richard A. DeMillo said “This is the tsunami.”

via: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/07/17/uva-and-11-others-become-latest-plan-moocs

What’s happening in Higher Education? Disruption on a massive scale, according to Richard Perez-Pena of the New York Times:

“if it becomes possible in years to come to get a complete college education from an elite institution online, free or at relatively low cost, experts wonder whether some colleges will find it harder to attract students willing to pay $20,000, $40,000 or even $60,000 a year for the traditional on-campus experience.

‘The people who should be worried about this are the large tier of American universities — especially the expensive private schools — that are not elite and don’t have the same reputation’ as the big-name universities now creating MOOCs, said Anya Kamenetz, an author who writes on the future of higher education.

Most experts say there will always be students who want to live on campus, interacting with professors and fellow students, particularly at prestigious universities. But as a share of the college market, that is likely to be a shrinking niche.”

Maybe Perez-Pena and Kamenetz are reading the crystal ball correctly, it’s hard to say. But their predictions seem like safe ones to me – higher education has been ripe for disruption for a long time now, offering a product many people want at a price point that very few can reach.

In considering what Coursera is doing, it’s important to understand that each of the new member schools have committed to offer the most highly reputed parts of their curriculum – medicine and public health courses from UCSF and Johns Hopkins, biology and life sciences courses from Duke, business and software courses from Washington – for free, according to Inside Higher Ed. They’re giving away what they do best.

The most important part of all this is the democratizing effect open online education should have. When people who might be able to complete such courses are able to access them at very low costs, we reduce the knowledge gap between them and people of privilege. Stephen Downes quotes Sebastian Thrun‘s response to whether this is the end of higher education as an exclusive enclave for a limited number of students at high tuitions: “It’s the beginning of higher education for everybody.” At this early stage at least, MOOCs represent a moral good.

As a practical matter for those of us who work in the K-12 world, we need to start thinking about several things.

  • How do we prepare our students to be effective in Massive Open Online Courses? or in smaller closed online courses? How do we foster initiative, self-advocacy, and the skills of time-management and communication?
  • What will be our response to parents who insist on school credit for completion of courses from Coursera, Udacity, edX, etc.? Do we really tell a parent their child must take our Calculus course when she may have already completed a MIT course? Maybe, but we need to think of this eventuality.
  • What does this tell us about learning in the 21st century? Do we need to come to a new understanding of college preparation? Should all high school students take some online courses?
  • As more K-12 schools move toward blended learning, will MOOCs become possible courses for high school students to take at their brick-and-mortar schools? Should we offer discussion seminars alongside a Coursera offering? What kind of training will K-12 teachers need?
  • Should elite schools be thinking about spinning off some of their own courses, and joining coalitions to offer online courses at the high school, or middle school level?

Many questions, the subjects of future blog posts.

What questions did I miss?

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Comments
  1. David Korfhage    

    Good list of questions. I am particularly intrigued by the last one–it has occurred to me, too. But I think the large-class, lecture-heavy nature of higher Ed makes it more suspectible to MOOC-ization. I think a move towards blended learning is more likely at the K-12 level. In fact, after I read that Times article, my response was, “Time to move towards more blended learning.”

    1. Mike Gwaltney    

      Agreed about Blended Learning, David. The question is a matter of degrees, I think. Do I blend my class a little, or does my school blend the entire program, or something in between? Really, I could see a school ‘partnering’ (loosely or formally) with Coursera to offer discussion and project groups in conjunction with the online course. I’m actually considering having my modern world history students do exactly that this September.

      Interesting times we live in. As always, thanks for reading.

      Cheers,

      Mike

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Mike Gwaltney