A US university is to partner with a massive open online course provider to offer low-cost online courses that bear enough academic credit for students to complete their first year of undergraduate study.
Arizona State University is to work with edX, and from this autumn will offer a range of Moocs that will form part of what it is calling the Global Freshman Academy. By autumn next year, it is hoped that there will be enough courses available for students to complete their first year in full – although they will have to first pay $45 (£29) per course (which pays for identity verification but does rather limit the “openness” of the “Mooc”), and then what the university describes as “a small fee of no more than $200 per credit hour to get college credit”. This is roughly half the price of the university’s on-campus courses.
“We will not be successful unless we reach talent from all backgrounds around the world,” said ASU president Michael Crow.
The announcement received a mixed response online. “It’s stuff like this that keeps me going and reminds me that this MOOC book project might be relevant after all,” writes Steven Krause, professor in the department of English language and literature at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti on his eponymous blog.
However, although he says that the programme may “attract some students who would have otherwise tried to go to ASU anyway”, and may be “successful as a PR move, too” if some students take an ASU Mooc before deciding to “enroll there for real”, he is not overly hopeful of its efficacy.
“I think MOOC providers are focusing on the wrong thing and the wrong audience,” he says. “[Students] pick colleges first based on academics, second on job prospects, and then (roughly tied for third/fourth/fifth place) on scholarship opportunities, cost of attendance, and social activities. And as I’ve also blogged about before, all the data suggests that most MOOC takers/students already have a college degree, don’t need or want the credit, and are taking the course for personal enrichment/‘edutainment’.”
On his More or Less Bunk blog, Jonathan Rees, professor of history at Colorado State University, declared that the ASU move meant that “education technology has just become weaponized”.
“Arizona State is now the first predator university,” he writes in a post titled “Big fish eat little fish?”. “They are willing to re-define what education is so that they can get more students from anywhere. If they don’t kill other universities by taking all their students with a cheap freshmen year, they’ll just steal their fish food by underselling 25 per cent of the education that those schools provide and leaving them a quarter malnourished.”
The result, he says, is that schools that stick to “reasonable standards with respect to the frequency and possibility of teacher/student interaction” will “fear for their very existence”.
“While this is good for nobody, it is especially bad for faculty at all levels. Remember the good old days of MOOCs when the only people teaching those courses were going to be the best of the best – the superprofessors? Well, now that edX sees deflected tuition money on the table, they’ve thrown out that particular aspiration.”
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