MOOCs change nature of online education


Philip Bishop, a professor in the Honors College, usually teaches classes of about 25 students.

But when he offered arts and humanities course last fall, “What Does it Mean to Live Well?” as a massive open online course (MOOC), the number of his students increased.

Bishop taught 1,400 students.

Some lived in Kurdistan. Some lived in Spain. Some, he never interacted with.

“I wanted to share the information with students who may not have had the access to be in the USF Honors College or may be interested in philosophy,” he said.

The New York Times called 2012 the “Year of the MOOC” and the Washington Post deemed MOOCs as “Elite Education for the Masses,” but as state universities have faced shrinking budgets in recent years, the questions as to what role online education will play have grown.


What is a MOOC?

MOOCs first arrived on the education scene in 2008, when the University of Manitoba in Canada offered a course that more than 2,300 students across the globe enrolled in.

But for the last five year, the buzz surrounding them has grown.

“Right now, they’re at their pinnacle of existence,” Shelley Stewart, an Instructional Technology (IT) professor and eLearning Facilitator for The College of Education’s partnership with The Media Innovation Team at The Center for 21st Century Teaching Excellence.

MOOCs have been called a game-changer.

Designed to allow any individual to access the same content from anywhere in the world, MOOCs are free and are designed to support large numbers of students via host sites such as the University of Reddit, which Bishop used for his course in fall.

Universities such as Stanford, MIT and Harvard came onto to the scene since, offering free courses and partnering with other universities on sites such as Coursera, Udacity and edX, each of which crossed 1 million participants in 2012.

“MOOCs are very much being used as an engagement tool,” Bridget Patel, Coordinator of Online and Alternative Delivery Program Development in Educational Outreach with University College, said. “They are a trend in the marketplace and serve as exposure and branding for the university.”

Manny Lopez, senior director for continuing education, said MOOCs offer universities a higher reach for the number of people they can access.

“It offers ways of offering online learning above and beyond state funds,” he said. “It reaches further and can be more tailored to workforce needs.”

Stewart said MOOCs help “democratize” the process of education by allowing people direct access to information.

“One things that MOOCs do is make knowledge and information very accessible,” she said. “It’s great for students who perhaps don’t have access to higher education, or don’t have access to courses that USF is not offering. It’s a great tool for interaction … Rather than ‘I’m the proprietor of knowledge, and I will give it to you,’ MOOCs create a sense of collaborative knowledge-building.”

USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said MOOCs have already left their mark on the field of higher education.

“I truly believe the jury’s already out,” he said.


Currently, USF offers about 1600 online courses, 26 fully online degree programs and 46 graduate certificates. USF was first in the state for number of distant learners, more than half of all USF students take at least one online course each year.

Some students enrolled in USF’s online courses, offered through University College, live in China and Saudi Arabia, though most live in the Tampa area, Patel said.

But creating a MOOC is more complex of a process, Pearce said. Creating a MOOC, opens content to even those not registered through USF. 123