January 23, 2013

‘Powerful’ eCornell Class Starts Amid MOOC Debate

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As the University considers whether or not it should begin offering massive, open online courses, it has begun teaching a free, online course on hospitality — marking the latest in the University’s attempt to navigate its place on the web.

The self-paced, online course, “Marketing the Hospitality Brand through New Media: Social, Mobile, and Search,” which began earlier January, is based off of class materials from the School of Hotel Administration.

Taught by Prof. Robert Kwortnik, services marketing, and Dr. Bill Carroll, senior lecturer in the hotel school, the course was first offered as a regular class on campus in Spring 2012.

“That class became the springboard for the online course, which [Carroll and I] developed throughout the summer and fall of 2012,” Kwortnik said.

Because students can enroll in the course for free, Kwortnik expects a substantial number of students to sign up for the course.

“It’s … exciting that the new course will reach a wide audience of learners — without a doubt, more students will take this course than I have taught in my [entire] career,” he said. “That’s a powerful reach.”

Furthermore, the course will allow eCornell to explore free courses as a marketing strategy, according to Chris Proulx ’91, president and CEO of eCornell.

“eCornell is interested in how students who enroll in the free course choose to enroll for additional courses or a certificate program track,” he said. “In that sense, we are exploring the use of these types of [free] courses as a marketing strategy.”

According to Proulx, eCornell decided to offer the course for free online to gauge the public’s response based on the number of students who ­enroll, decide to take additional courses or pursue a certificate program on eCornell.

“[The course’s online] format — free and [capable of] high-volume — was initiated to explore the response of the professional market to courses with larger enrollment,” he said.

Kwortnik emphasized that although the course is taught online, there is still considerable interaction between the students and the instruction team. For example, students may join a discussion forum with other course participants to debate brand strategy as a part of an assignment.

“Although the participants in the course are not physically in the classroom, eCornell has offered opportunities for them to be virtually engaged with the course in a way that does support Cornell’s brand of teaching excellence,” he said.

Furthermore, the course will attract students who are interested in gaining particular knowledge about specific topics in a disciplined, thought-provoking way in their own time, according to Carroll.

“[The course] combines traditional instruction with leading industry expert advice, applied in simulations of typical industry activities,” Carroll said. “Moreover, it encourages student interaction with one another and instructors on a near real time basis.”

According to Proulx, while this is similar to traditional Massive Open Online Courses in that it is free and online, it is different from MOOCs in several ways. Unlike most MOOCs, the course has an option for a follow-up program that leads to a University-sanctioned credential.

Additionally, the course differs from a traditional MOOC because it has a “tight industry focus … the active facilitation of the course by a learning team … and the potential for a sustainable revenue model,” Proulx said.

Though the course is free of charge and open to the general public, it is not a part of the University’s overall MOOC strategy plan, according to Provost Kent Fuchs.

“The University is still considering the possibility of joining one of the large MOOC consortia, [a group of colleges partnering to offer MOOCs],” he said in an email. “We hope to have a decision by the end of February.”

Although the course contains elements of a MOOC, the online course is more focused, according to Proulx.

“In contrast to many MOOC efforts which have broader objectives  … [this] course is designed for marketing professionals in hospitality who are focusing on using new media channels such as social, mobile and search engines to enhance their property’s brand and grow revenue,” he said.

According to Proulx, if the University decides to begin to offer MOOCs, eCornell and the University should collaborate to enhance online learning offered through Cornell.

“I believe that should the University offer a range of MOOCs through one of the consortia, we can exchange ideas and lessons learned between what we are doing [at eCornell] and what might be happening in other parts of campus to continue to advance online learning at Cornell.”

Original Author: Jonathan Swartz