What the hell’s a MOOC?

27 February 2013

Melbourne University is the first in Australia to join Coursera, an expanding online course provider. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free and can be taken by anyone with internet access anywhere in the world.

By partnering with Coursera the University joins 32 prestigious education institutions including Princeton, Stanford and Columbia Universities—a virtual Ivy League.

A typical course runs from six to ten weeks and consists of a series of short video lectures, weekly assessments and even a final exam for some subjects.

While there is no credit equivalency available for Coursera courses, many students sign up for classes looking to upskill or simply out of interest.

With government funding set to squeeze the University budget in coming years it is worth exploring the University’s motivations for embarking on this project.

Professor of Economics and Coursera lecturer Jeff Borland told Farrago, “it’s a way of promoting the University as online education increasingly becomes part of the new education environment.

“There’s the idea that we could eventually integrate the web-based resources and material into campus-based teaching.”

Professor Nilss Olekalns, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Business of Economics envisions a “blended approach,” where shared materials like Coursera can supplement on on-campus learning.

“Once students learn the key basics at home that frees up lecture time to do more interesting things. We can make the lectures more about application and student interaction. Of course it also becomes a ‘try before you buy’ policy for the University,” he said.

Prof. Olekalns’ course, Principles of Macroeconomics, is set to commence in March with an estimated enrolment of 24,000 students already.

The costs of the program are not believed to be prohibitive. Expenses for researching and filming courses are fixed and will not increase with student demand. Content can also be recycled over semesters with greater ease than on-campus material.

University lecturers are adamant that MOOCs are unlikely to challenge traditional tertiary level institutions, which still provide a unique learning experience and campus experience.

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