Dennis Carter of eCampusNews writes today about the University of Virginia’s recent partnership with Coursera, in his article titled:  Experts: UVa.’s Coursera partnership far from an embrace of online learning.

For many, the growth of Coursera is exciting–especially as it adds more member institutions. However, there’s another side to this growth that his article focuses on: politics & power at institutions that are on the sideline.

Mr. Carter approached me to comment on the situation.

My response was:

From afar, the University of Virginia’s partnership with Coursera seems to be a reaction to the pressures President Sullivan received from the board, and specifically leader Helen Dragas. It seemed like NOT having online offerings played a part in President Sullivan’s ouster in early June.

This was made clear in Dragas’s 10-point critique of Sullivan with the “changing role of technology in adding value to the reach and quality of the educational experience of our students” as point number two.

Given all of the political pressures around University of Virginia’s need to add online learning, it’s unfortunate that it appears neither lady knew their own Darden Business School had been engaged in talks with Coursera since April.

Really pretty crazy the power plays that exist within institutions as they rush to jump-on the new online learning gold rush.

Enjoy the day!


Mr. Carter’s next question was perhaps a bigger, even more important question NOT covered in his article:

Is the general embrace of MOOCs a good sign for online education, and consequently, a bad sign for traditional universities that have ignored web-based learning?

My reply was:

Wow– a great question…and a “can of worms”!

I think the key is in the definition of “online learning” and importantly what we expect will occur inside a MOOC and what the student outcome will be.

So much of online learning now at the K12 & college level is simply a recorded lecture that’s viewed or “textbook online”. It works but really isn’t different from the experience of a traditional classroom, which means the transference isn’t difficult for either teacher or student.

A MOOC however, is a TOTALLY different kind of “online learning” altogether.

Stephen Downes ( & Twitter @OLdaily) is in my opinion THE “expert” on MOOC’s, having been hosting them years before anyone else (and using open source tools).

He writes in his article “What a MOOC Does”:

“One big difference between a MOOC and a traditional course is that a MOOC is completely voluntary. You decide that you want to participate, you decide how to participate, then you participate. If you’re not motivated, then you’re not in the MOOC.”
“If we can get past the idea that the purpose of a MOOC is to ‘teach people stuff’ then we can begin to talk about what benefits they bring. But so long as we just think of them as another way of doing the same old thing, we’ll be misunderstanding them.”

I think this is the reason why MOOC’s that are really specialized, upper-level courses–like artificial intelligence and computer programming taught to tens of thousands by Stanford genius Sebastian Thrun, works, because there’s an investment and voluntary desire to learn from one of the brightest and be part of a collective of similar students.

Whether or not MOOC’s are good or bad will depend on how students use them and how well they do in them– do they complete them (23,000 of 58,000 made it through Stanford’s first MOOC), do they pass them, do they assess well on some measure?

What do YOU think?

Is the general embrace of MOOCs a good sign for online education, and consequently, a bad sign for traditional universities that have ignored web-based learning?

Use the comment section below–share your thoughts!