The Presidents Poll - Spring 2013

Coursera, Sera

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A mixed message about MOOCs and other online college offerings

By Margaret Foster

March 1, 2013


 

 

Hundreds of universities began allowing students to take classes online last year, including Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and the University of Virginia. Now dozens of public universities plan to offer free online courses for credit. At the University of Texas, Arlington, three-quarters of students who took a free online course later enrolled in an additional class.

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The ivory tower is now open to anyone with an Internet connection. Through massive open online courses (MOOCs), acclaimed professors can teach ambitious teenagers, retirees, students in Sri Lanka, even archaeologists doing fieldwork in Tanzania. Without so much as a credit card number, even the most humble among us can register, via platforms like Coursera and edX, for a Greek literature class at Harvard, a statistics course at Princeton, or a literature course titled “The Fiction of Relationship” at Brown. And the University of Virginia is apparently giving away the secrets of life in a philosophy class called “Know Thyself.”

We asked presidents of universities with Phi Beta Kappa chapters to share their thoughts about this brave new world. (We liken our informal, utterly unscientific poll to a question posed at a cocktail party where the dress is business casual rather than black tie.) About two-thirds of the 50 respondents said yes, these free online courses are worth the up-front production costs—with one caveat: they are not for everyone. “I believe only the elite institutions can sustain and grow this effort. Others of us will dabble and have measured success,” wrote John Roush, president of Centre College, who does not believe these courses are a good investment but does plan to offer them “in time.”

Several presidents suggested that laptop-based classes are antithetical to a liberal arts education. “Our defining pedagogy is rooted in interpersonal interaction and face-to-face exchange and dialogue,” said Joseph Urgo, president of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, who indicated his school would not pursue online courses but would “integrate online platforms to support and enhance the classroom experience.”

It’s too soon to tell whether online courses are a good investment, said David Maxwell, president of Drake University, who answered, as seven others did, that they simply didn’t know yet. “It’s a very, very fluid situation, and it’s not at all clear how it will play out,” Maxwell wrote. “There’s also no one right answer for higher education.”


Many other presidents elaborated on their responses:

 

1. Are online courses a good investment?

Yes
On-line is a form of pedagogy. It is appropriate in some circumstances, but cetainly not all, particularly in the context of undergraduate education.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?
Yes
We offer 50 on-lines classes, mostly in the summer and to our own undergraduate students.

Elon University


1. Are online courses a good investment?

Yes
Yes, but only with the market-based research that the “free” courses would develop a reasonable pipeline into the institution for further coursework that is not free.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?
Yes
We currently offer online courses and programs, primarily in certain graduate courses due to the increase competition of more “elite” schools coming into our market with competing online options.

Linda Hanson, President, Hamline University

 


1. Are online courses a good investment?

Yes
Or at least, they can be good investments. The question is what mission values the investment supports—outreach to new populations of learners, improved learning outcomes for specific groups of students, as well as potential for increased revenue and visibility.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

Yes
Possibly, although we are conceiving of online courses as a form of “remote collaboration,” rather than as “distance learning.” These are very different concepts.

Jo Ellen Parker, Sweet Briar College


1. Are online courses a good investment?

There are a variety of complex variable to consider before answering this question. It is largely a function of institutional mission and goals for the introduction of on line learning.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?
No
We are more likely to infurse technology into classess to deepen and fconnect learning in new ways.

Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, Kalamazoo University


1. Are online courses a good investment?

Yes
Much depends on the quality of the faculty member, the nature and level of support provided, etc.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?
Yes

Jonathan Alger, President of James Madison University


1. Are online courses a good investment?

No
Depends on for who. If you’re a place that offers large lecture sections with talking heads and passive learners, the online course is probably a cost-effective option. If you’re a place that looks for constant student-faculty interaction and engaged learners, even admitting that some on-line courses can have interactive features, an on-line course probably not achieve the learning outcomes you want at any price.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

No
We haven’t found a way to really reproduce the give and take of the interactive classroom using electronic means.

Denison University


1. Are online courses a good investment?

No
Only the elite institutions can make these good investments.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?
Yes
Many of our adult students can benefit from this mode of instruction.

James Muyskens, Queens College CUNY


1. Are online courses a good investment?

Yes

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

No
We ARE likely to expand “blended” or “flipped” courses that combine online and in-class, face-to-face instruction.

Steven Poskanzer, Carleton Colege


1. Are online courses a good investment?

Yes
The cost-value analysis of on-line courses are very particular to the course.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

Yes

We offer only two selected on-line courses because they are the best approach to a particular part of a particular curriculum. In general, our students prefer face to face education and significant student-faculty interaction is the main reason they have come to a liberal arts college.

MaryAnn Baenninger, College of Saint Benedict


1. Are online courses a good investment?

No
Not for our institution, but perhaps for larger institutions with greater name recognition.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

Yes
We will charge tuition and hope to capture the summer tuition monies our students spend elsewhere.

Joseph Bruno, Marietta College


1. Are online courses a good investment?

Yes
Online delivery platforms have the potential of providing unprecedented levels of access to learning experiences for students who may otherwise lack the opportunity.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

No
We are a residential liberal arts college. Our defining pedagogy is rooted in interpersonal interaction and face-to-face exchange and dialogue. Our model will never be dominant and we do not seek fot it to be—we serve a particular segment of the population, and will continue to serve highly motivated, academically driven young people.We will, of course, integrate online platforms to support and enhance the classroom experience.

Joseph Urgo, St. Mary’s College of Maryland


1. Are online courses a good investment?

No
I believe only the elite institutions can sustain and grow this effort. Others of us will dabble and have measured success.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

Yes
In time, yes, with the emphasis on “in time.”

John Roush, Centre College


1. Are online courses a good investment?

Yes
To use, not necessarily build.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

Yes
We must stay competitive, but we will not manufacture the course

John Neuhauser, St. Michael’s College, VT


1. Are online courses a good investment?

It depends. On the student, on the course, on whether it is taught well, on whether the student completes the course and the assignments.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?
No

Mitchell B. Reiss, Washington College


1. Are online courses a good investment?

Yes
On-line content is now part of what most universities will need to offer to our traditional students in the future.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

Yes
We are a land-grant school in a small town servicing a state where many people are place bound. Our on-line course content is absolutely critical to assist with these non-traditional students.

Kirk Schulz, Kansas State University


1. Are online courses a good investment?

The reason that I have not responsed previously to this survey is that the question does not have a yes or no answer. In some cases, such an investment may be warranted. In others, the decision might be to withhold funding. The answer depends entirely on the course content, potential audience, price point of tuition, financial aid, etc.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

Yes
Yes, we offer a select number of online course in our college of business and college of law.

Steadman Upham, The University of Tulsa


1. Are online courses a good investment?

No
Matter of institutional scale. Works for larger institutions; may compromise mission of small liberal arts courses.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

No
Will use emerging technologies for blended courses on campus, but our service is to residential students.

Bobby Fong, Ursinus College


1. Are online courses a good investment?

Yes
Yes, for large publics; probably not for small liberal arts colleges, public or private.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

Yes
We offeer online courses to supplement and fill in holes in our offerings. We favor so-called blended instruction, however, that enhances the general experience of a liberal arts college. Everything we do must serve our mission as a residential liberal arts college.

Christopher C. Dahl, State University of New York at Geneseo


1. Are online courses a good investment?

No
They might be for some, but the value of the online courses should be in the context of any institution’s mission.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

No
We very much value an education that is face-to-face, where the interactions among the students inside and outside the classroom are vital. We are committed to our residential liberal arts college mission. Wabash College is committed to educating young men to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively and live humanely. That might be able to be done on line, but we doubt it and it is not our mission.

Patrick E. White, President, Wabash College


1. Are online courses a good investment?

Yes
I think online courses will become an alternative instructional path for some students and will supplement instruction for many students. Although there are issues to be resolved (course completion and cost model), we will figure them out in time.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

No
On-line course capacity would have to built from the ground up and is not a logical extension of our mission. I could imagine a few individual faculty members pursuing this idea but don’t see a campus-wide effort in that direction at the moment.

Richard F. Wilson, Illinois Wesleyan University


1. Are online courses a good investment?

No
We can’t compete, and that is not our mission.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

Yes
They are cost-effective and conveneient for some graduate programs and select UG applications.

Nancy Gray, Hollins


1. Are online courses a good investment?
No
Don’t appear to be for us … yet.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?
Yes
Offer lots of them for credit, but none are free.

University of Mississippi


1. Are online courses a good investment?

Yes because over time the investment can be recouped

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

Yes
Slipping our toe in the water to remain relevant

David Anderson, St. Olaf College


1. Are online courses a good investment?

It depends on the course and on the student

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

No
We are a school committed to face-to-face, professor-to-student interaction.

Augustana – Illinois


1. Are online courses a good investment?

No
I wish that there were a “don’t know” choice – it’s a very, very fluid situation, and it’s not at all clear how it will play out. There’s also no one right answer for higher ed – the answers depend on subject, student audience, learning goals, etc.

2. Does your school offer or plan to offer online courses?

Yes

We already do offer some on-line courses – whether or not we begin to offer MOOCs (or use MOOCs in our learning environment) is a subject of much campus (and Board) discussion.

David Maxwell, Drake University

Margaret Foster is associate editor of The American Scholar.


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