A soon-to-be-released report on the strategic use of massive open online courses suggests there is a value to the free courses and that the campus should continue to experiment with them.
Charles Tucker, the vice provost for undergraduate education and innovation, provided an overview of the report at the Nov. 11 meeting of the Senate Executive Committee.
"(MOOCs) are aligned with who we are and what our mission is," said Tucker, calling the U. of I.'s involvement with online course aggregator Coursera "a voyage of exploration."
So far, more than 300,000 online learners from around the world have signed up for U. of I. courses on Coursera as the university continues to examine where the new technology fits into its long-range academic plans.
Tucker said the report, prepared by the MOOC Strategy Advisory Committee, calls for more study and investment in the online courses, and invites campus units to think about uses for the technology that align with the campus mission.
"It's not an either-or decision," he said, comparing Coursera's open MOOCs to traditional online classes. "There's a lot of space between those options." The report also says the U. of I. should explore other platforms for delivering MOOCs, in addition to its partnership with Coursera.
Tucker said the committee suggests that MOOC technology could be used in new ways, such as college readiness courses for high school students, continuing professional training and certification, or as a way for U. of I. Extension to reach new segments of the state's population. Such potential uses should be judged by their contribution to the campus mission, their costs vs. revenues, and their impact on existing programs, according to the report.
The report also calls for another round of MOOC proposals from faculty members to expand the U. of I.'s Coursera presence. Proposals for Coursera MOOCs will continue to be reviewed by a campus committee.
The report recommends not offering credit for Coursera MOOCs as they now exist, but says that the university should consider awarding credit for future MOOC-like experiences that meet its regular criteria for awarding course credit.
There also is valuable information being collected from online learners, which could provide a better understanding of how students learn and the best way to teach certain subjects. "MOOCs let us discover things about learning that we cannot study any other way," Tucker said, "so they help us improve teaching and learning in all of our courses."
To meet increased demand, Tucker said the committee has recommended investing more money in personnel who create MOOC and online course materials, such as video and instructional design experts. Tucker said that much of the content created for the U. of I.'s MOOCs is already being re-used in the university's existing online and on-campus courses.
Tucker said the income from Coursera so far is very small and the committee continues to discuss how MOOCs should affect faculty pay. He said Illinois faculty members would continue to own the intellectual property rights to course materials they create, and that the university also has a right to use materials when it has invested more than ordinary resources in their creation.