Promise and Pitfall: Going All-In on Coursera

Promise and Pitfall: Going All-In on Coursera

Inside Higher Ed technology reporter Ry Rivard’s recent in-depth post covers the process and challenges numerous state universities are experiencing as they incorporate Coursera online materials into their curricula. Rivard outlines a number of ways that schools may implement these tools; a synopsis of these, drawn from his post, indicates an intriguing range of opportunities:

Some university officials say they see Coursera as a potential replacement for some services universities now receive from the makers of learning management systems. 

Some state systems will use Coursera to create massive open online courses, or MOOCs. 

…some universities will try Coursera to see how well they can use its software to offer traditional for-credit online classes to dozens of registered students at once. 

Others will turn Coursera into a new kind of textbook by pairing online material from elsewhere with their own university’s instructors. 

Some universities may try to create entirely new learning communities by sharing course material amongst themselves or by licensing other universities’ content to flip classrooms. 

And yet other universities may experiment with Coursera in an effort to lower costs, offer credit to students who take MOOCs, offer certificate programs using Coursera courses or increase the number of students they can enroll at any given time.

Rivard’s post comes on the heels of the news that Boston University and Berklee College of Music recently joined edX, the online education initiative founded in part by MIT, Harvard and other prominent higher ed institutions. In conjunction with the adoption and integration of Coursera’s materials by the (literally) massive SUNY system and other state university systems like those in Colorado, Tennessee, West Virginia and elsewhere, this moment seems to mark another cornerstone in the foundation that online education is laying, in a range of forms and contexts.

But how sturdy is that foundation? In a post just one day after the one cited above, Rivard cites the subsequent opposition, on the part of many state university faculty members, to these Coursera decisions.

Some faculty accused Coursera and the state-funded universities of working together to experiment on students. On the other end of the spectrum, some faculty had talked beforehand with administrators about the deal and were cautiously optimistic the arrangements could create new opportunities for students.

In addition to accusations of collusion and experimentation, some educators’ concerns focus on the intrinsic risks of committing full-steam-ahead to the untested novelty of what Coursera represents:

Gary Rhoades leads the department of education policy studies at the University of Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education. He said chasing the latest shiny thing is exactly what is happening in central offices across the country as presidents, under the gun to appear innovative, are signing deals with Coursera without consulting faculty. 

“An ounce of deliberation is worth a pound of faddish imitation,” Rhoades said.

The implications of this “shiny” new and growing presence of online or distance educational approaches, practices, techniques and potential hurdles are far-reaching, both into the future and around the world. What some see as educational innovation, others see as academic desperation—and the debate is far from over.

What pitfalls do you think Coursera customers (state and private universities) and their end users (students and faculty) might encounter? Are there any advantages that offset these risks? It’s all happening—so tell us what you think.

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