MOOCs and the crisis in higher education

“MOOCs are the fad of the moment,” said University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler yesterday on The Daily Circuit. Despite his skepticism, this week the U announced that it would offer Massive Open Online Courses through Coursera.

Clay Shirky argues in The Awl that while MOOCs may not be the answer for the crisis in higher education, the U and other bricks-and-mortar schools need to come up with solutions. To understand the scope of the problem, he says don’t think about the students in the US News’ Top 100:

If you want to know what college is actually like in this country, forget Swarthmore, with 1500 students. Think Houston Community College, with 63,000. Think rolling admissions. Think commuter school. Think older. Think poorer. Think child-rearing, part-time, night class. Think 50% dropout rates. Think two-year degree. (Except don’t call it that, because most graduates take longer than two years to complete it. If they complete it.)

Shirky, himself on the faculty of a traditional university, says he believes most schools try to work for their students, but that the system is irreparably broken. MOOCs may seem fad-ish, but they are harbingers of big changes for the University of Minnesota and other institutions.

I’ve been thinking about the effects of the internet for a couple of decades now. I’ve watched industry after industry forced to renegotiate their methods and models, in the face of a medium that allows for perfect copying, global distribution, zero incremental cost, ridiculously easy group-forming: The music business. Newspapers. Travel agents. Publishers. Hotel owners. And while watching, I’ve always wondered what I’d do when my turn came.

And now here it is.


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    REALLY? You guys must be really board at MN. Public Radio. Everyone knows that the U OF MN. is the new Selective Factory. By the Way Good Luck at legalizing BEER At the Stadium.

  • Hello There

    Here’s my question. What accountability systems will the University of Minnesota integrate into the MOOCS program to know it is effective? Will they look at dropout rates, course completion rates, and costs for delivery? Might they compare these outcomes/costs relative to traditional brick and mortar education? We might be just following another fad, but where are the systems to tell us if this investment will help folks complete college?

  • Jay

    What is the “crisis”? That’s a pretty hefty word to use without any justification. American universities lead the world in innovation. If the bulk of our faculty members come from abroad, it’s just because we attract top researchers from around the globe. The glut of unemployed graduates just means we educated too many people. That’s a crisis of the economy, not of our universities.

  • Joan

    I work at one of those community colleges, and crisis is exactly the right word. Drop out rates are off the charts and the graduation rate barely breaks double digit percentage. That is a LOT of taxpayer money wasted (some of which the state attempts to collect back from students who walked away with big taxpayer-funded checks).