ASU’s edX MOOC deal: Lots of links and a few thoughts

It’s stuff like this that keeps me going and reminds me that this MOOC book project might be relevant after all. First a bunch of links:

  • From Inside Higher Ed, “MOOCs for (a Year’s) credit.” “Arizona State University, in partnership with edX, this fall will begin to offer credit-bearing massive open online courses at a fraction of the cost of either in-person or traditional online education.” … “By fall 2016, ASU anticipates it will offer enough MOOCs so that students can complete their entire freshman year online through what edX and the university are calling the Global Freshman Academy. After completing the courses, students can receive a transcript from ASU showing that they have earned enough credits at the university to transfer to a different program or institution as sophomores. Since the university stresses the MOOCs are just a new form of delivering courses it already offers, the transcripts won’t specify which type of course — in-person, online or massive online — students enrolled in to earn the credit.” Lots and lots of details about this here.
  • From the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Arizona State and edX Will Offer an Online Freshman Year, Open to All.” Here’s an interesting quote: “The courses to be offered through the Global Freshman Academy are being designed and will be taught by leading scholars at Arizona State. “These courses are developed to their rigorous standards,” Adrian Sannier, chief academic officer for EdPlus at ASU, said in the release. “Course faculty are committed to ensuring their students understand college-level material so that they can be prepared to successfully complete college.”Students who pass a final examination in a course will have the option of paying a fee of no more than $200 per credit hour to get college credit for it.”
  • Here’s the ASU official announcement and here’s edX’s announcement about the Global Freshman Academy. One thing that’s worth noting here is that this page answers the “who is this for” question by noting it is for traditional freshmen and returning students (the picture there features a man at a computer who is probably in his 40s or older) and “Educators and lifelong learners.”
  • Here’s a Washington Post article on this, “Arizona State University to offer freshman year online, for credit.” Here’s a quote on the price: “At the end [that is, end of the course], they will be able to take a proctored final exam. Those who are successful can pay tuition of up to $200 per credit toward an ASU degree. Students who complete eight classes this way can enter ASU as sophomores, according to university President Michael M. Crow. Estimated total tuition and fees for this route: a little more than $5,000. That’s about half of what in-state students are paying this year on the main campus in Tempe, Ariz., and about 20 percent of what out-of-state students pay.”
  • From The New York Times comes “Promising Full College Credit, Arizona State University Offers Online Freshman Program.”
  • There’s a kind of interesting article about Michael Crow behind the firewall of the CHE too, “The Making of a Higher-Ed Agitator.” Sounds like he has quite the “interesting” biography.
  • A few somewhat more critical pieces on all this. First, from Inside Higher Ed, “Change, but How Substantive?” A lot of this article is about the accreditation issues associated with this. It’s not to say that the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (ASU’s accreditor) isn’t going to approve this; but there are still apparently a lot of questions and concerns.
  • Second and more important, also from Inside Higher Ed (and his own “Confessions of a Community College Dean”) comes “What Problem are ASU and EdX Solving?” from Matt Reed.   Here’s a longish quote that I think gets at one of the big problems I see with this plan:

According to Carl Straumsheim’s piece in IHE, a student who enrolls in one (or more) from a specific set of MOOCs offered through edX will have the option of paying a $45 fee for identity verification, followed by a $200 per credit fee to Arizona State, to have the MOOC performance translated into academic credit by and for ASU.

Or, that same student could take an actual course, online or onsite, from a community college. It would cost less, and would have an actual instructor provide actual guidance and feedback  throughout the course. The credits would transfer anywhere, not just to ASU. Tuition at Maricopa — the community college local to Phoenix — is $84 per credit, as opposed to $200 for the MOOC. Even in the higher-tuition Northeast, we come in well below $200 per credit. And community colleges run full slates of general education courses.

Even better, taking the course with a community college offers access to online tutoring, library resources, and other student supports that have been “unbundled” from the MOOC.

ASU is pointing out that a student doesn’t need to pass through the ASU admissions process to take a MOOC. That’s true, as far as it goes, but community colleges are also open-admission, and have been for decades.

I’m just not sure which problem they think they’re solving.

Anyway, just a few very brief thoughts on this:

First off, I think that Matt Reed is absolutely and positively right. While it’s kind of cool that students don’t have to pay for their classes until after they take them, $200 a credit isn’t really that cheap for these kinds of credits because community colleges are typically cheaper and provide better support for students.

A closely related issue here: MOOCs have a long way to go to prove that they actually “work” as well as face to face classes and smaller, more interactive online courses.  Udacity’s failed experiment at San Jose State doesn’t bode well here. So this program is likely to have lots and lots of students who start these courses but not that many who pay for the credits, either because they don’t need/want the credits (see below) or because they simply don’t finish the course.

Second is recent and not so recent history is not on the side of this sort of initiative. When “traditional” online programs/courses came on the scene in the late 1990s or so, the idea was that a place like EMU could offer a degree program and attract students from Alaska or wherever. Well, mostly what has happened is online courses and online programs have attracted more or less local students: that is, the online classes I teach are mostly full of students who are taking face to face classes at EMU as well.  Sure, there are some institutions that have had success at attracting students from other parts of the country and world– and ASU is one of the places that has been successful at that too.  But generally speaking, students take courses online from institutions where they take face to face courses.

Third, I think MOOC providers are focusing on the wrong thing and the wrong audience. As I blogged about just before this post, students pick colleges first based on academics, second on job prospects,  and then (roughly tied for third/fourth/fifth place) on scholarship opportunities, cost of attendance, and social activities. And as I’ve also blogged about before, all the data suggests that most MOOC takers/students already have a college degree, don’t need or want the credit, and are taking the course for personal enrichment/”edutainment.”

Like I said, maybe all this program needs to do to be successful is to attract some students who would have otherwise tried to go to ASU anyway. Maybe it will be successful as a PR move, too: some students take some ASU MOOCs, have good experiences, and decide to enroll there for real. But for MOOCs to really represent a “sea change” in higher education, it seems to me they need to address the top motivating factors for students’ choices about what school to attend and not just costs.

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