Monthly Archives: August 2013

Online courses shaking up higher-ed learning model –

Measured strictly by size, the University of Florida’s recent Fundamentals of Human Nutrition class was a resounding success. The class, offered this past spring, was UF’s first foray into the online trend of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. The class was open to anyone interested, from around the world, and more than 69,000 students signed up.

For comparison purposes, UF as a university has a total enrollment of about 50,000 a year.

In other ways, though, UF’s MOOC – and the track record of MOOCs in general – is less impressive. With the courses generally offered free of charge (hence the “open” part of their title) some inevitably sign up simply out of curiosity, or because it allows them to listen to the lectures of big-name professors at far-away schools such as Harvard or MIT.

Students often have no real intention of doing the work. Completion rates are generally abysmal, with more than 90 percent of students dropping out.

At UF, tens of thousands of students registered but didn’t even watch one class presentation.

Also, if stadium-sized online classes are indeed a glimpse into the future of higher education (and many have suggested they are), how are universities supposed to stay financially afloat when they’re giving away their product for free? Another issue: MOOCs usually don’t include any college credit, so how useful can they be for students who want a credential that is recognized and valued by employers?

The ongoing debate over MOOCs is a microcosm of America’s higher education industry, which is now at an Internet-created crossroads. Across the country, online learning allows schools to expand their reach, but it is also threatening the traditional business model of how to deliver knowledge and also how much to charge for it.

Across all sectors of the industry – public, private, and for-profit – there is the sense that online learning offers the greatest opportunity for future growth. For-profit universities such as the University of Phoenix and Strayer University were the first to truly embrace online education, and their revenues soared as a result. Between 1998 and 2008, enrollment in U.S. for-profit colleges jumped by 236 percent, according to the independent advocacy group Education Trust.

Tailored for adults

Aside from their early mastery of the online platform, the for-profits excelled at marketing to adult, nontraditional students, as well as tailoring the educational experience to their unique needs. The University of Phoenix, for example, compressed its classes into five- or six-week mini-semesters, with the idea that it’s easier for busy adults to absorb one fast-paced class than to juggle four classes in a full-length college semester.

More recently, though, for-profits have been criticized for using overly-aggressive, car-salesman-like selling tactics to recruit students. The schools often charge higher tuition than public colleges, and the student loan default rates at for-profit schools are dramatically higher than at other types of colleges.

At the same time that for-profits have struggled, traditional public and private colleges have aggressively expanded their menu of fully online degree programs.

But some schools, such as the University of Miami, have been hesitant to join the mad dash toward offering fully online degrees. UF has a staggering array of graduate-level online degrees – 70 in all.

Ray Schroeder, director of the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois-Springfield, says universities are now facing the same decisions that confronted the music and newspaper industries years ago when the Internet turned their whole operating structure upside down.

“Colleges and universities should be excited – this is an important change and movement in higher education,” Schroeder said, although he warned that online learning means colleges will face increased, and tougher, competition. Schroeder noted that well-known Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen predicts that about half of U.S. colleges and universities will go bankrupt during the next 15 years.

“There certainly will be a shakeout,” Schroeder said.

Training doctors

Davie, Fla.-based Nova Southeastern University was an early pioneer in the realm of online learning – the school began offering an online master’s degree program back in 1986. Limited by the technology of the times, that master’s degree in computer-based learning was entirely text-based, with instructors typing out a lesson and students responding with typed questions.

Flash-forward to 2010, and Nova had advanced tools such as “interactive teleconferencing,” which it used to train doctors in Iraq on emergency pediatric procedures. In a room located thousands of miles away, the Iraqi students practiced their techniques on plastic dummies, while Nova instructors at the Davie campus virtually looked over their shoulder online.

Where will things go from here? Perhaps the future will be something like the fully online (and bargain-priced) bachelor’s degree programs that UF will launch next year. State lawmakers in April approved a new initiative where UF will offer online bachelor’s degrees priced at no more than 75 percent of the university’s face-to-face tuition. With Floridians increasingly struggling to pay for college tuition, state leaders have pitched online classes as a way to rein in the cost of getting a degree.

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But W. Andrew McCollough, associate provost for teaching and technology at UF, warns that online classes don’t automatically solve the college-affordability problem.

“There is no inexpensive way to develop quality online learning,” McCollough said. “If you’re going to maintain the quality you insist on, you need scale.”

That means online classes of 200 students, not 20, McCollough said. Regarding MOOCs, McCollough views the gigantic courses as an initiative to freely spread the knowledge of the nation’s best professors worldwide – but without awarding college credit.

Others think MOOCs will eventually shift to a for-credit model, thereby allowing students to take a sizable chunk of their college courses for free. But for now, only a handful of colleges nationwide grant transfer credits for a completed MOOC.

Paying for classes

At some institutions, the online classes taken for college credit are actually slightly more expensive than traditional face-to-face classes. That’s because the schools, in an effort to offset the cost of developing online courses, tack on an extra online-learning fee. Florida International University’s online fee is $160 for a standard three-credit course, added to the normal tuition of $615 per class.

Such fees haven’t slowed the popularity of online learning at the University of Central Florida, where an astounding 74 percent of students take at least one online course. Even with the fees, President John Hitt argues that the online revolution is saving students money.

Thanks to online courses, Hitt said, UCF is no longer constrained by the number of classrooms available at its Orlando campus. As a result, the university can offer more of the classes that students need to graduate on time, preventing them from having to stick around for an additional year.

“That’s easily $10,000 or so for a year,” Hitt said. “That’s a huge savings.”

UCF has built a national reputation as a leader in online education, and Hitt says he’s “very optimistic” about what the future will hold.

Administrators say online classes – perhaps surprisingly – are helping enliven the school’s traditional campus. Most UCF students aren’t fully online – they take a mix of online and face-to-face classes. But the scheduling flexibility of online classes has given students more time to hang out on campus and participate in student clubs or other activities, administrators say.

Online classes have also transformed the teaching practices of traditional face-to-face classes. At UCF, it’s common for professors teaching classroom courses to nevertheless use the online learning management system to post interactive activities for students. The standard “chalk and talk” lecture approach is fast disappearing, said Joel Hartman, UCF’s vice provost for information technologies and resources.

“There aren’t that many pure face-to-face courses left anymore,” Hartman said.

When UCF students rate their courses at the end of the semester, blended learning classes (combining in-person and online instruction) have received the highest marks. Fully online classes, and then traditional classroom courses, rank the next highest in student satisfaction.

“It’s not that face-to-face classroom is low, it’s that these others have risen to the top,” Hartman said.

At Florida International University, history professor Brian Peterson teaches both online and traditional classes. In his face-to-face classes, he also uses the online teaching platform – Peterson might give a 15-minute lecture and then break up the students into research teams, or they may evaluate each other’s written papers online.

“What we’re doing in class is interacting. … It’s making face-to-face classes better,” Peterson said.

Easier online

Still, Peterson has mixed emotions about the rise of fully online classes. He said he has noticed that students in his online classes seem less engaged (with less-frequent attendance, for example) and that they often sign up for online classes assuming the course will be easier in that format.

The course does end up being easier online, Peterson said, if only because he can’t push these unmotivated students as far.

“You have to set the bar lower online if you want to keep an acceptable number of students,” Peterson said. “Yeah, it bothers me, but I think that my job is to do the best I can with the circumstances that I have.”

6 free online classes anyone can take – USA TODAY

Some college students love learning for the sake of learning.

But elective classes, however interesting and engaging, don’t count toward a major, and students might have to forgo the fun classes in favor of a degree.

For the students who didn’t get to explore all the subjects they wanted before graduation or just want to continue their education, perhaps it’s time to look at your online options.

Free online classes, open to the public, are growing more popular and extensive. They are offered through many websites and universities, including Harvard, Yale and Duke.

These classes, which cover nearly every subject and have various formats, are ideal for anyone with a love for learning but not the funds or grades needed to get a top-rate education.

Here are six unique, inspiring and beneficial classes anyone can take in their spare time — free of charge!

Entrepreneurship – From Idea to Launch

This class is offered by Udemy, a website that has a wide variety of free online courses, from sports to music to languages. This course is composed of more than 32 lectures and 10 exercises.

The class “provides a series of lectures that can guide an aspiring entrepreneur through the steps that will greatly increase their chances for successfully turning their idea into a successful business.”

Personal Finance

This eight-class Missouri State University course can be found on both iTunes U and YouTube though Open Culture, a site that allows you to search for free online classes by topic, then directs you to all available formats. The class is composed of videos and covers topics such as personal saving, credit and retirement planning.

Designing Your Life

This class is offered by MIT OpenCourseWare. The site explains that virtually all of the content from every class at the university is offered there. Designing Your Life is intended to provide an “exciting, eye-opening, and thoroughly useful inquiry into what it takes to live an extraordinary life, on your own terms” and “address what it takes to succeed, to be proud of your life, and to be happy in it.” This class includes lecture notes, assignments and other downloadable course material.


This course offered by Yale may sound morbid, but at some point, we all think about what happens when we pass. This philosophy class explores the possibilities. The course examines concepts such as death not being the end of our journey, how knowing we will eventually die should affect the way we live and the different attitudes toward death. The videos are offered through both YouTube and iTunes U, and the course pages can be downloaded.

Useful Genetics

This class is offered by Coursera and is a bit different than most. Coursera classes begin on specific dates — just like online classes you would take at a university — and last for a specific length of time. The course description says it is meant to create a sense of community with others taking the class. This specific class is being offered on Nov. 1 and May 1. The Useful Genetics course is designed to deliver a college-level understanding of how genes function and the role of inheritance, as well as tackling questions such as “Is there a gay gene?” and “Do different races have the same genes?”

Food preparation in the home

This free, online class offered by BYU is good for those who want to improve their skills in the kitchen. You can start the class at any time, and it is very interactive. The course is meant to help you “understand food in relation to health, develop skills in buying and preparing foods” and teach you to “practice safe handling, storage and preservation of foods.”

Degrees may not be free, but learning can be.

Jasmine Barta is junior at Arizona State University.

U.Va. opens registration for free online classes – Richmond Times Dispatch

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Registration is open for the first of 11 free online courses the University of Virginia will offer this year.

The non-credit courses known as MOOCs, for massive open online courses, are offered through a partnership with Coursera. They include business and education courses, as well as politics professor Larry Sabato’s course on John F. Kennedy.

Among new courses is English professor Bruce Holsinger’s “Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction,” which will begin Oct. 15 and is a version of the “Historical Fictions” seminar he teaches at U.Va.

Holsinger is the author of “A Burnable Book,” a historical novel set in London in 1385, scheduled to be published by HarperCollins early next year.

The course will feature recorded discussions with contemporary writers of historical fiction, including Pulitzer Prize-winner Geraldine Brooks, and the opportunity to follow up with the novelists in online forums and chats.

More information is available at Here is the schedule for U.Va.’s courses:


“Foundations of Business Strategy,” Michael Lenox (Darden School of Business), six-week course starting Sept. 2

“New Models of Business in Society,” R. Edward Freeman (Darden School of Business), five-week course starting Sept. 2


“Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction,” Bruce Holsinger (Department of English), eight-week course starting Oct. 15.

“Effective Classroom Interactions,” Bridget Hamre, Grace W. Funk, Allison P. Leach and Kathy Neesen (Curry School of Education), four-week course, start date TBD

“The Kennedy Half-Century,” Larry Sabato (U.Va. Center for Politics), four-week course starting Oct. 21


“Design Thinking for Business Innovation,” Jeanne Liedtka (Darden School of Business), five-week course starting Nov. 5


“Grow to Greatness, Part 1,” Ed Hess (Darden School of Business), five-week course starting Jan. 20

“The Modern World,” Philip Zelikow (Department of History), 15-week course, start date TBD

Coming in the spring

“Grow to Greatness, Part 2,” Ed Hess (Darden School of Business), four-week course, start date TBD

“Buddhist Meditation,” David Germano (Department of Religious Studies), start date TBD

In the works:

“Age of Jefferson,” Peter Onuf (Virginia Foundation for the Humanities)

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