A&M considers free web classes for future
Massive Open Online Courses already available elsewhere
Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 23:01
Thousands of students woke up, got dressed and attended class on campus for the first day of school Monday. These students participate in a long-standing process — paying for classes at the university they attend, working on assignments, studying for tests and eventually earning credit that they can use toward a degree. Some of these courses may even be online. However, A&M is looking into a rising form of online education that offers college courses to anyone with Internet access — free of charge.
Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are college courses developed by the faculty of a university that are offered free of charge to people around the globe, allowing access to parts of a college education without offering course credit.
Karan Watson, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, said while credit may not be offered for MOOCs alone, the educational material may be a valuable resource for students.
“It helps our student directly, maybe sometimes indirectly,” Watson said. “It helps us when we can say to students that they don’t need to use books the faculty has written, that they can go online and see materials that another faculty has developed somewhere else.”
Watson said one issue with MOOCs is a low retention rate. She said most people who sign up for MOOCs don’t finish the course, so they don’t cover all the material to earn the certificate of completion that can be used on a resume, for example.
“They don’t get credit for it, but it’s no loss because they didn’t pay anything for it,” Watson said. “Offering a bunch of courses like that isn’t going to help students get through college … It’s like a library. Most of us have access to the information in a library, but most of us won’t go and read all the books in the library.”
While faculty members at many universities across the nation have already developed MOOCs, Texas A&M is still looking into the possibility of devoting resources to the development of MOOCs. Watson said a committee is looking into how best to select the first MOOCs Texas A&M will offer.
“The committee that we have formed now is working under the assumption that we will find the right resources to help a modest number of faculty break into this area,” Watson said. “The committee is putting together the requirements on how are we going to select what we do first and the basis of the competition to see which MOOCs we will do first.”
Pierce Cantrell, vice president and associate provost for Information Technology, said the committee hopes to bring a recommendation to the provost by the end of January and start on the task of selecting the first few MOOCs to develop.
“It’s a tremendous amount of work, putting up a traditional MOOC that would scale to a hundred thousand people, would be professional and would portray the University in the best light,” Cantrell said. “I think the thing is, if you get into this business you don’t want to do a bad job. There’s a number of reasons to do them, but certainly having the A&M name known around the world for something that was really first rate would be good for us.”
Watson said sharing knowledge is part of the institutional responsibility of a university and MOOCs help provide educational resources to the world at large, as well as providing assistance to Texas A&M students.
“It’s part of a university’s educational mission,” Watson said. “If you have experts in one subject you don’t make everyone pay for everything. For a good world you share it. A MOOC is like that. If you have experts in one field and they can put in a format that other people want to use, we think that’s a good thing for the intellectual world. And our students would be able to use that.”
Chandra Kovvali, freshman nutritional sciences major, said the supplemental aspect of a MOOC is what most interests her, as well as the fact that it allows A&M to exhibit expertise in different fields of study.
“These free courses are beneficial to those who seek enrichment, as well as a strong network to others with similar interests,” Kovvali said. “Additionally, universities like A&M can showcase their talent and faculty.”