Posted by: Tom Ross | August 30, 2013

Trumping the Brick & Mortar

[Click on the title above to view on the CTE Central Blog website.]

Dozens of colleges and universities—with the backing of top foundations—are trying something new: Massively Open Online Classes or MOOCs. It’s an innovative way of using technology to create and provide online classes at no charge.


In May Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commented on the role of MOOCs in higher education, saying they may help control costs, which are “crushing a lot of Americans.”

“I am very, very, very interested in MOOCs, not just on the higher Ed side, but in the high school space and maybe even in the middle school space,” Duncan said. “We just want quality.”

Quality, Secretary Duncan continued, would include making sure that course-completion and retention improve. “If you can deliver a high-quality college education for a fraction of the cost…it’s fascinating.”

He said it’s too early to judge how online learning will ultimately change the college experience. “It’s an emerging story.”


Two big sources for MOOCs today are Coursera and edX.


To date Coursera, a Silicon Valley company, is working together with 62 universities on several continents.

EdX was created by Harvard and MIT. Recently it partnered with the leading global institutions of the xConsortium (what the whole list of cooperating agencies is calling itself) including MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, and IIT Bombay.

EdX has also just started working with Aspiring Minds, which helps organizations evaluate new employees and improve employability through online education, mostly in India. The partnership will provide employability advice through their service called AMCAT, which will make this advice available to the whole MOOC world. If I go any deeper, I may never come back.

What other services can MOOCs provide the CTE community? Here are a few resources and news articles:

  • National University offers the CTE Teacher Pipeline an online CTE program for academic credit to help working professionals take their occupational skills and subject-matter expertise to the classroom.
  • Online learning, career prep gain popularity for high school students, from Scoop San Diego.
  • Gates, MOOCs and Remediation: Early returns show that massive open online courses (MOOCs) work best for motivated and academically prepared students. But could high-quality MOOCs benefit a broader range of learners, like those who get tripped up by remedial classes?
  • Harris Interactive did a study of adults completing a B.A. or an M.A. online at Western Governors University—a nonprofit and completely online university—and found that 2010-2012 graduates increased their annual salaries by $9000 and 2006-2009 graduates’ salaries by $18,600.

The pros seem obvious: it’s new and exciting, it’s affordable, it’s available anywhere to everyone, and it’s especially valuable to those who are not currently in school because of work or the prohibitive cost.

The cons from some professors include that there is no positive learning relationship between student and teacher and that [professors] are reduced to feeling like teaching assistants. And most college and university presidents don’t believe that MOOCS will transform student learning or reduce costs, according to a Gallup Poll conducted for Inside Higher Ed.  (Check out the other survey results here as well.)

Not to mention how easy it would seem to be to cheat on a MOOC. The good news is that new technologies may prove to be even better than real proctors. The bad news: you don’t even have to take the class— and, among others, will do it for you. But then there’s evidence that cheating hasn’t changed much at all.


New York Times, Education Life

Professor John Covach, who teaches the History of Rock Music at the University of Rochester as well as online through Coursera, comments in an article in Yahoo News that the comparison of MOOCs to traditional college courses perhaps shouldn’t even be made. “It really is something else and needs to be conceived as such from the first stages of planning,” Dr. Covach said.

“Thought of as an opportunity for colleges and universities to share some of the wealth of knowledge they preserve and generate, MOOCs are a fantastic way to give back to the world at large,” Dr. Covach continued. “And this is a mission that should be a central part of any institution of higher learning—not [only] to produce students who will get jobs, but to foster the pursuit of knowledge in general.”

I think Secretary Duncan would agree. What do you think?


  1. On the elementary end of it all, Science4Us, an online, standards-based, core science curriculum that delivers digital science experiences to early elementary students, has just been awarded a grant from the Department of Education for educational games in science. Science4Us provides foundational science knowledge in a way that engages the learner and will lead more students to reach for the STEM-related jobs and industries of the future.

  2. “Every pedagogical situation can be thought of as a kind of triangle among three parties: the student, the teacher, and the world that student and teacher investigate together. In online courses, the patch of world under examination is highly curated: educators select exactly what material will inhabit the course’s online environment. In short, the pedagogical triangle gets collapsed into a binary relationship between student and teacher.” NYTimes Opinion Page, Sept 8, 2013:

  3. Educators can now prepare students for a wide range of in-demand technical careers using new Career Technical Education (CTE) courses from Edmentum, a leading provider of online learning solutions. Eight CTE courses are available now for Edmentum’s standards-based Plato Courseware online curriculum, with an additional 24 courses scheduled for release in 2014. From the Wall Street Journal, Sept 9, 2013:

  4. New study with disappointing results:

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