The college student of the future rolls out of bed on his own schedule. Still in his pajamas, he goes about his morning routine, grabs something to eat, opens his laptop and plugs into a virtual classroom, which offers higher education courses taught from institutions around the world. This is the college experience of the future — and with rapidly increasing popularity and institutional support already for in-house online courses, it’s not too hard to imagine it will soon be a reality.
Massive open online courses are key players in the evolving spectrum of online education. They’re an invention that took flight when renowned private institutions began offering online adaptations of classes to the public. Last week, 10 public universities joined with MOOC distributor Coursera and announced their intention to begin providing institutional credit for Coursera’s online classes.
The University of Oregon, however, remains cautious in jumping on the bandwagon.
Recently, Ian McNeely, a UO history associate professor and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, served as part of a committee designated by the Oregon University System to set a policy regarding the acceptance of credits for prior and outside learning — including credits earned through online course providers. Their deliberation, he said, concluded that individual universities should retain the power to distribute credits where they see fit. As of yet, the UO does not offer credit for MOOCs.
“Like a lot of institutions, we’re actively monitoring the landscape when it comes to MOOCs,” he said. “In the last couple of weeks alone, some universities have signed on while others have voiced deep skepticism about the whole enterprise. We’re in no rush.”
Within the UO, a number of other committees have formed to discuss the online future at the campus. One such group, the Educational Technology Steering Committee, hopes to have crafted a mission statement to guide future, technology-based academics by their final meeting in the coming weeks, according to Pamela Palanuk, office manager for Academic Affairs.
Phil Weiler, vice president of strategic communications, believes the best way for the UO to adapt its own system is through the careful observation and critique of its more adventurous peers.
“The UO has spent this year pulling together and identifying what approaches seem to be making the most sense,” he said. “We benefit by watching the experimentation that’s taking place at other institutions to make a hybrid model that works for UO students.”
Regardless of MOOC’s implementation at other schools, he and other UO officials cite a number of problems needing to be addressed before these courses should be considered a permanent education option, including their high drop-out rate, the attribution of credits to a diverse range of students and how to best achieve balance between virtual learning and physical interpersonal interaction — something Weiler believes will remain absolutely essential to a successful higher education experience.
Although it may appear that the UO is moving more slowly than its peers, he maintains caution is key to long-term success.
“We’re just at the beginning of a very big change,” he said. ”I think the UO is taking a good, prudent approach.”