Cornell Will Join MOOCs Consortium, Provost Says

February 27, 2013 12:31 am0 comments
Akane Otani

At the urging of faculty members, Cornell has decided to join a MOOCs consortium — a step that will allow professors to offer massive open online courses to thousands of students, Provost Kent Fuchs said Tuesday.

MOOCs have seen a surge in popularity over the last several years, as schools such as Harvard and Stanford University have taught students topics ranging from quantum mechanics to Greek mythology through the online courses. While some critics of MOOCs argue that their large scale mitigates the quality of education they promise to offer, proponents — including Cornell administrators and professors — say MOOCs have the potential to transform higher education.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Fuchs said. “It gives our faculty a way of experimenting with new ways of teaching using social learning and peer rating.”

Cornell is currently deciding whether to offer its MOOCs through edX, a Harvard and MIT-owned not-for-profit, or Courseera, a Stanford-owned for-profit, according to Fuchs. The University is in the process of negotiating how many courses Cornell will promise to offer through the consortium, which entity will control the courses and how much revenue, if any, will be generated through the courses.

The University will most likely make an announcement in March about which consortium it will partner with, according to Fuchs.

Regardless of the consortium Cornell decides to join, Fuchs stressed that he does not view MOOCs — which people can enroll in, free of charge — as a mechanism by which the University will generate additional revenue.

“My goal is to break even … to bring revenue in through certificates [of completion for the courses] and through other ways,” Fuchs said.

To help interested professors participate in the MOOCs movement, the University will offer some funding to faculty who want to create their own MOOCs, Fuchs said. That list of interested faculty may be substantial — as, according to Fuchs, “there’s a growing interest among [Cornell’s] faculty in MOOCs.”

In fact, Fuchs said, faculty — not the administration — urged him to pursue a partnership with a MOOCs consortium.

“They’re eager and enthusiastic,” Fuchs said. “I just spent an hour talking with a group of faculty who work with the chief information officer on [MOOCs]. They were very pleased. Many of them want to have a course that they can put up that is free.” 

Prof. Eva Tardos, computer science, who chaired the faculty committee that recommended the University adopt MOOCs, said she is “thrilled” Cornell is joining a consortium.

“We have to support MOOCs and help faculty experiment with this new form of teaching,” said Tardos, who is also the senior associate dean of Computing and Information Science. “I think the first step of the process is joining a consortium, which helps a group of universities that are essentially together trying to develop technologies to support this kind of education.”

With “a number of faculty who are very interested in teaching MOOCs,” the University stands to reap numerous benefits from joining a consortium — including producing online materials that may complement courses held in person on the Ithaca campus, Tardos said.

Fuchs added that the University, in joining a consortium that will partner it with top schools across the nation, will have the opportunity to collaborate with other colleges offering MOOCs. 

“It gives our faculty a set of other universities that are participating [in the consortium] with them so we can learn from them,” Fuchs said. 

The use of MOOCs will allow faculty to break from the mold of traditional lecture-style courses, Fuchs added.

“They can enhance their lectures with MOOCs by breaking them up into segments instead of holding a 50, 60-minute long lecture,” he said.

By offering free, online courses that allow anyone with an Internet connection to participate, Cornell also has the potential to expand its educational reach, Fuchs said.

“It will bring publicity. If there’s a high school student who takes an online course with Cornell, it will bring positive publicity to the University,” he said.