How the president of St. Scholastica sees MOOCs

I’ve been looking into Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) ever since the Coursera-Minnesota flap.

Here’s part of a faculty/staff address given by The College of St. Scholastica President Larry Goodwin back in August.

I’ve included a transcript of the section where he discusses them. He sees a lot of promise in them, and goes over one way his college might use them.

Essentially, they’d be part of the “flipped classroom” idea.

Here’s the transcript:

 

Let’s imagine a world where outstanding college courses are posted online for free.  Why would anyone pay tuition?  One answer is:  Because they need guidance through the material, support in their efforts to understand it, and certification that they have actually mastered what they studied.

What is the role of a teacher, if excellent courses are already posted online for free?  I think the faculty role will shift from conveying information to insuring understanding.   Fewer lectures and more one-on-one and small-group work.

I can imagine a traditional residential learning community that operates year-round where students access information in a variety of ways:  through the library, through internships, through public lectures, through online MOOCs before they come face-to-face with a professor.  This is what is called the “flipped-classroom” in the literature: students listen to the lecture as part of their homework, and then use class time otherwise.  The idea is not so radical:  It looks to me a lot like the tutorial model that has been in place at Oxford University for centuries-now adapted for the digital age.

There are at least two advantages to this approach:  One is that it allows students to move through course material at their own rate.  Failure becomes an opportunity to back up and try again.  If people learn at different rates and in different ways, why do we insist on bundling them together in cohorts that move lockstep Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for 65 minutes for 15 weeks?  People with different abilities, different experiences and different learning styles are expected to learn chemistry or literature or philosophy in about the same amount of time.  Does this make sense?  The assessment movement has shifted our attention, rightly, from seat time to demonstrated outcomes.  Is it really so important that it takes Johnny longer to demonstrate the outcomes than it does Jane?  The point is the competency, not the clock.

The second advantage I see is that this model concentrates faculty work on what faculty uniquely do best, which is to get inside the head of the learner to test mastery of a subject.  Nobody else can do this except the expert-so why not increase this dimension of the faculty workday?  It also seems to me that if faculty are spending most of their time working with students one-on one or in small groups, we need not fear the loss of our mission and values.

 

Looking beyond the traditional residential community, we can imagine the “non-traditional” world where learners come to a college with a portfolio of life and work experience and perhaps some MOOCs in hand, asking for a pathway to a degree or a certificate.  They will pay, not for access to information that they already have or can download for free; they will pay for an expert to help them turn it into productive knowledge.

So here’s my proposal:  Recognizing both the financial hurdles our students face, as well as the interesting possibilities opened up by technology, let’s work to create new pathways to a degree for more and more students.  Keep doing what we are doing well, but also leverage competency-based learning to create new options.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our College were viewed as a great place to go because we provide so many ways for learners to earn a degree?

For example, can we develop a pathway that allows someone to bring up to three years of transfer work, prior learning experiences, and MOOCs-in any combination-and complete a degree here by taking the final year in the Extended Studies format?  Such a pathway-while not for everyone-would provide a significantly less expensive route to a degree for some students without compromising our standards.

I’ve asked Don Wortham, our vice-president for strategic initiatives, to lead us in this exploration.  He has already convened several working groups of faculty and staff, and we will offer more opportunities during the year for interested people to join in the discussion.