By George Tamas ~ MOOCs (or Massive Open Online Courses) have recently created quite a stir in higher education. Initially created by two Stanford professors as a means to offer free online access to high quality courses to any student worldwide, such offerings have now proliferated and have become a phenomenon propelling the future of higher education. Multiple consortia of major institutions offering such MOOCs have sprung up worldwide. Coursera, Udacity, and edX are just some of the consortium efforts to organize and systematize such offerings.
Such courses now have enrollments in the tens of thousands in some cases. These are extraordinary numbers that challenge the conventional approach in most institutions of restricting online enrollment numbers. Some institutions view the MOOC movement as a threat, but certain other institutions see them as an opportunity.
Impact of MOOCs on Traditional Institution Offerings
Bunker Hill Community College and Massachusetts Bay Community College have begun collaborating with edX, for example, to use certain of its MOOC offerings to create a blended course model. As another example, Antioch University has announced its intent to offer credit to its students for certified achievement in certain MOOC courses.
Badges and the Certification of Achievement
Clearly, one of the key issues that such MOOCs and any collaborating institutions must resolve is the issue of “verification of identity” of each student and “certification of achievement” for competence or mastery of the subject of the MOOC offering. Early efforts are under way to try to resolve both issues. Already some significant developments have emerged in the certification of achievement area with the concept of “badges.” In this case, much like the concept of a scout badge, a badge is a digital certificate issued by a registered entity that specifies an achievement of a certain level of mastery of a specific skill or topic. Among other efforts, Mozilla has created certain standards for the technical structure and process validation for badges.
The Future of Badges in Student Assessment
Badges are likely to play an increasingly important roll in future curriculum design, even at traditional institutions . At Governet, the CurricUNET Meta™ system presently captures specified Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) for each course as accreditation-required measures for student achievement. In our view, these SLOs are early generalized precursors to what will likely become a more granular set of standardized measures, like badges. Such specificity of student learning outcomes will have tremendous future value for students as they go out into their careers with the ability to document their badges for prospective employers seeking very specific skills and knowledge. So in the future, a student from an institution using CurricUNET Meta™ can not only display a “B” grade in a particular subject, but also a list of badges in key skills and knowledge topics. Convinced that such a badge system is inevitable as MOOCs become more of an educational norm, Governet is already preparing the design of CurricUNET Meta™ to capture such badge specifications.
The Meta-University, or “Meta U”
While MOOCs may have started the intensified discussion of certification of achievement in the area of massive online courses, we believe further that the greater issues that ripple from this movement will ultimately result in a much greater exposure to traditional institutions and their variants of online and blended course offerings, as well as those from non-academic sources. Toward that end, Governet intends to build a meta university, or the “Meta U,” what might be called a “universal hub” for indexing and linking to online learning from any and all sources worldwide – whether from a MOOC consortium, traditional institution, corporate training entity, or other source.
At present, the total course offerings from the three major MOOC consortia number fewer than 400 courses. By contrast, for example, the CurricUNET database currently holds more than 600,000 course outlines and will likely increase to more than 1,000,000 courses in 2013. Of these, approximately 3-5% (or up to 50,000) will be online offerings.
In the last 10 years, the rising cost of education has begun to deter a growing number of students from pursuing higher education. MOOCs and other online learning opportunities now offer affordable alternatives that enable working students to pursue a quality education without the expenses of commuting, boarding and enrolling in traditional institutions. Online offerings will provide sustainable benefits to institutions as well by tapping into additional revenue streams borne from increased student capacity without the cost of expanding the institution’s physical infrastructure. To that end, the “Meta U” will offer a one-stop shopping site for browsing and linking to free or affordable online learning anywhere in the world. This is the future.
[button color=”blue” link=”http://sustainedu.wpengine.com/moocs-part-2/” target=”http://sustainedu.wpengine.com/moocs-part-2/”]READ PART II: From MOOCs to MOOCCs and MOOPs[/button]
About the Author: George Tamas, CEO of Governet, the creators of CurricUNET and the Worldwide Curriculum Network, is an authority on Web-based solutions for higher education and author of The Geo Chronicles.