January 29, 2013
Susan Gilbert, dean of the School of Business and Technology at Thomas Edison State College
Last month, The Chronicle of Higher Education contained a story about British universities offering massive open online courses (MOOCs). Just like at institutions such as MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Penn, Dartmouth, UC-Berkeley and many others, the best and brightest faculty of the UK will be offering academic courses with open access in an online format. I think this is very good news for Thomas Edison State College students.
It is not necessarily good news for all students, as it could eventually make the most popular faculty less available for ordinary classroom courses that accommodate 60 students rather than 60,000. It could also dissuade some individuals from attending college and achieving their goals of earning a degree. But for Thomas Edison State College students, it is a good thing. In fact, it is with great conviction and confidence that I state that MOOCs will be a widely used resource for Thomas Edison State College students over the next few years.
Unlike most other regionally accredited institutions, Thomas Edison State College serves adults exclusively. Our students are not seeking the typical “coming of age” life experience of going to college because they have already come of age. Our students are highly discerning regarding their classes, mentors and how they spend their time. Their standards are high, the bar they set for themselves is high and they will not tolerate us (or anyone) wasting their time. This is where MOOCs come in. As dean of the School of Business and Technology, I view the growth of MOOCs with great excitement because of the potential opportunities they bring to our students.
Last month, it was widely reported that Coursera, perhaps the best known provider of MOOCs, had surpassed 2 million students with over 200 online courses offered through partnerships with 33 institutions. I found this growth incredible. Here is a source of learning and academic content taught by some of the world’s best and most sought out instructors. Courses include foundations of business as well as highly unusual electives. Since I am an economist, I did a search for microeconomics courses at well-known MOOC sites and three offered courses in Microeconomics this fall. Here are three that I found:
These courses range from basic to advanced, are 10 weeks in length and are (currently) free. If you take any one of these courses and are able to pass, you should be able to pass an approved credit-by-exam program in microeconomics, which would award you 3 credits in undergraduate economics. Those credits could be applied to a degree or used to satisfy the economics prerequisite of our MBA program. This model offers an excellent way to earn the credits you need in the most efficient and economical ways possible.
We are taking this concept further. The Thomas Edison State College Foundation has recently awarded a grant to fund the development of a competency-based program that leverages MOOCs and other open resources and the College’s expertise in assessing prior learning to create new pathways for degree completion. Under the direction of the College’s Center for the Assessment of Learning, we plan to develop assessments for open courses and resources that appropriately map to our degree programs, so our students who complete these open courses can earn credit toward their degrees.
However, not everyone can learn working so independently. It takes discipline and motivation to keep up and proceed through the modules. These characteristics are exactly the factors that differentiate successful Thomas Edison State College students.
And this is why I think that MOOCs are great news for our students.
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