Coursera [a major provider of online courses] continued its ambitious expansion in the growing market for MOOC support today, announcing accords with 16 new universities to help them produce massive open online courses — more than doubling the company’s number of institutional partners and pushing its course count near 200.
The new partners include the first liberal arts college, Wesleyan University, to leap formally into the MOOC game, as well as the first music school, the Berklee College of Music.
Coursera also announced deals with name-brand private universities, such as Brown, Columbia, Emory and Vanderbilt Universities; some major state institutions, such as the University of Maryland System, the Ohio State University and the Universities of Florida, and California at Irvine; and several international universities, such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the Universities of British Columbia, London, and Melbourne.
The company already boasted the most courses and student registrations of any MOOC providers, having registered 1.3 million students for its courses (although far fewer have actually stuck with a course). Andrew Ng, one of its co-founders, said Coursera will probably double its university partnerships at least one more time before it stops recruiting new institutions.Is this move dwarfing any other kind of academic reform than universities might think up? Like actually requiring students to do some work, such as we posted about recently?
MOOCs are free, but if you want credit you have to pay. Maybe it's the ultimate come-on tantalizer. Can they deliver good education? Time will tell, but the major questions are first, whether the level of education will typically be close to that students can get from face-to-face contact in class, and whether this will undermine universities across the country (and world).
Will 'Bezos University' mean that local real colleges and universities can dump much of their faculty? Will on-campus work consist mainly of things that require physical presence, such as labs or perhaps art museums? Will that be restricted to the elite who can pay?
There are the large threats from online enterprises, such as the ones to whole industries -- Amazon and publishing houses, e.g. -- and there are smaller threats, as to local theaters from the distribution of live broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. If this, e.g., is a money raiser for them, and it seems to be since it's been going on for a few years, then are local musical companies being squeezed out of business? If you can see prima donnas on the Big Screen with great sound and subtitles, why pay to see lesser local singers ply their trade? Or will the telecasts whet the appetite for in-person theater?
We don't know the answer, but the issues are serious. We are training gobs of graduate students across the country, largely aiming them at academic jobs. Will those jobs be there? Or will the jobs be much lesser ones, of doing online tutoring of the students who pay for downloads of the 'real' professors who are professing on Bezos U?
Time will tell. It doesn't seem the train can be stopped, as every me-too university that can join the online club will frantically do that so they don't get left behind. This is not based on anything reasoned or rational at this stage, but purely on the 'business' model of education.