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Topic: MOOC Skeptics at the Top
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 13,616
Registered: 12/3/04
MOOC Skeptics at the Top
Posted: May 19, 2013 9:47 PM
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From INSIDE HIGHER ED, Thursday, May 2, 2013. See
http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/05/02/survey-finds-presidents-are-skeptical-moocs
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MOOC Skeptics at the Top

By Scott Jaschik

It would be easy to think that the leaders of American higher
education are all in when it comes to MOOCs. Dozens of colleges and
universities -- many of them among the elites -- have rushed to offer
massive open online courses. Top foundations back the effort. The
American Council on Education has moved quickly to certify some of
the courses as credit-worthy. Many other colleges are considering
plans to award credit for MOOCs or to use them in instruction.

But it turns out that -- when asked privately -- most presidents
don't seem sure at all that MOOCs are going to transform student
learning, or reduce costs to students -- two of the claims made by
MOOC enthusiasts and an increasing number of politicians and pundits.

That is a major finding of a Gallup survey of college presidents
(based on responses from 889 of them) being released today. Inside
Higher Ed editors and others helped Gallup draft the questions, as
part of a new Gallup/Inside Higher Ed collaboration that will feature
brief quarterly surveys of presidents on timely issues. (Gallup is
also the survey provider for Inside Higher Ed's annual surveys of key
decision-makers in higher education, including an annual, more
detailed survey of presidents. Unlike the surveys Gallup does for
Inside Higher Ed, this series does not break answers down by sector).
[See http://www.insidehighered.com/news/survey ]

The margin of error on the survey, according to Gallup, is 3.3
percentage points.

This first iteration of the quarterly survey featured questions on
academic preparation of students, college costs, shared governance
and other topics, and a cluster of questions on MOOCs.

On MOOCs, only small minorities of presidents strongly believe that
they will improve the learning of all students (3 percent), solve
colleges' financial challenges (2 percent) or cut what students spend
on higher education (8 percent). Much larger shares of presidents
strongly disagree with those statements. Presidents were more likely
to see MOOCs promoting creative pedagogies or getting the best
teachers in front of more students, but even on those topics, many
presidents appear doubtful.

Presidential Views of MOOCs

I consider MOOCs to be a solution to the following:

Scale is from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree)

...................................................................Strongly...........................................................Strongly...........Don't
...................................................................Disagree........................
....................................Agree.............Know
...........................................................................1...................2...............3.................4...............5

Improve the learning of all
students.........28%...........31%.........24%..........10%..........3%.............4%
Solving colleges' financial
challenges........31%..........33%..........21%............9%..........2%.............4%
Getting superior teachers in front
of........18%...........22%.........28%...........22%.........7%..............3%
........................................more students
Fostering creative pedagogical
strategies.10%..........17%..........27%..........32%.......11%..............3%
Increasing collaboration among
colleges..10%..........19%..........30%..........29%..........7%.............5%
Reducing costs of education to
students...15%..........23%..........31%..........20%..........8%.............4%

So how to make sense of this skepticism with the seemingly endless
flurry of MOOC-related announcements these days?

One theory is that much of the speed with which colleges have
embraced MOOCs (at a pace uncommon for academe) has been spurred more
by trustees than presidents. Last summer, after the University of
Virginia board (briefly) ousted Teresa A. Sullivan as president, open
records requests revealed that trustees -- while plotting Sullivan's
removal -- were e-mailing one another articles about MOOCs,
especially articles suggesting that they were about to transform
higher education.
[
http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/06/20/e-mails-show-uva-board-wanted-big-online-push
] The e-mail messages suggested that board members were frustrated
that U.Va. hadn't moved more quickly to join the MOOC movement.
(Shortly after Sullivan was reinstated, Virginia did start a MOOC.)

Privately, some presidents and provosts have told Inside Higher Ed
that they too have received strong interest from trustees in MOOCs,
more interest in fact than they have received about online education
efforts that have, at many institutions, existed for years. They have
said this is in part because so many top universities have embraced
MOOCs, and in part because publications read all the time by trustees
(The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, for example) have
published many articles and columns extolling MOOCs.

"Based on these findings, it's clear that the U.Va. situation is just
a canary in the coal mine," said Brandon H. Busteed, executive
director of Gallup Education. "College presidents, writ large, are
extremely skeptical about the value of MOOCs as it relates to
reducing cost, improving quality, and even expanding reach. And with
governing boards that have strong business backgrounds and have been
reading all of Clay Christensen's writing about how online education
and MOOCs will change the world, there's bound to be big clashes
ahead at most -- not just some -- institutions."

Phil Hill, co-founder of MindWires, a consulting group on education
technology, co-led a webinar for Educause in February called "Beyond
the MOOC Hype." And he said that he thought the survey results
reflected a reality that isn't apparent from watching all of the MOOC
announcements.

"What I see is ambivalence," Hill said. "I do think there is a very
real trend that MOOCs are changing higher education, and ironically,
one of the ways they are doing that is getting presidents and
provosts directly involved in how online education should change
their business model."

But as the presidents get more involved, Hill said, they see that
MOOCs "have been over-hyped as a simplistic solution" to many
problems.

He agreed that presidents face pressure from trustees to find ways to
make MOOCs work. But at the same time, presidents are hearing from
faculty members who "say that MOOCS are not a magic bullet."

Hill said that if the Virginia e-mail messages reflect the way
trustees are looking at MOOCs, that creates a challenge for
presidents. "The board at Virginia didn't understand online
education. They were into this hype cycle," he said.

Another reason many college presidents may be skeptical of MOOCs, he
added, is that the courses have become the province of elite
institutions, which in turn are creating tools for other institutions
to use or license in some way. The participation of the elites may
create credibility for MOOCs, Hill said, but that means other
institutions may not see the same benefits.

Costs, Jobs, Preparation and the Faculty

Other findings of the survey touched on non-MOOC issues.

On the issue of college prices and costs, most presidents reject the
idea that college degrees are "becoming a privilege for the rich."
Only 4 percent strongly agreed and only another 19 percent agreed
with that statement. At the same time, only 8 percent of presidents
strongly agreed (with another 24 percent agreeing) that higher
education is affordable.

Asked whether certain factors were "very important," "important,"
"not very important" or "not important at all" in evaluating the
quality of a college, 65 percent said that the percentage of
graduates able to get a good job was very important. And 58 percent
said that the percentage of students who graduate from college was
"very important." With plenty of presidents agreeing that those two
factors were moderately important, only small minorities of
presidents didn't view those issues as significant.

A majority of presidents agree that most high school graduates are
not prepared for college -- with 11 percent saying that less than 25
percent are prepared, and 47 percent saying that the percentage
prepared is 25 or higher, but less than 50.

Recent years have seen tensions over shared governance at many
campuses, with faculty members complaining that administrators and
boards are less likely than in the past to consult with professors or
to defer on academic issues. Asked if their boards no longer
respected shared governance, 18 percent of presidents either agreed
or strongly agreed.

********************************************
--
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu



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