Need-to-Know News: New MOOC Research Hub, ROI on Higher Ed Degrees, Ed-Tech Tools

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series I aim to share noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform the traditional model of education.

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Icon image for Flipboard

Never a dull moment in the education sector, and this past week was no exception. The value of a college degree is the topic of much discussion of late, and the NYT recent article, The Premium from a College Degree, highlights data on the return on investment of higher education, suggesting that an Associate Degree is a better deal than a Bachelor’s. In the MOOC world, more money invested in MOOCs—this time not by a venture capitalist, but for a research Hub. And more debate about MOOCs; the value and purpose. Finally I share two ed-tech tools that are excellent applications for organizing web content and projects.

1)  The Return of Investment [ROI] of a Degree
The value of a college degree is in question, in the Unites States at least. As the level of student debt rises, so has intensity of the debate about the cost of education. Granted, this economic approach frames the discussion in a one-dimensional perspective, assessing education in economic terms only. Yet it does give clout to the value of an education, highlighting the benefits of pursing higher education for increasing one’s earning potential.

BUT, what is really interesting what happens when education dollars spent are calculated to determine the return-on-investment. A concept usually applied to financial investments. The study prepared a chart show comparisons on ROI of education spending and other investment alternatives, and shows the ROI on education “exceeds the historical return on practically any conventional investment, including stocks, bonds, and real estate,” [Greenstone & Looney, 2013]


  • Some college education is better than no college, even though in the US there are  negative connotations associated with dropping out of college.
  • Significant data supports the casual relationship between education and later earnings, but still the debate rages on about the value of education, many cite successful executives without college degrees. Other critics stress educational quality, stating that value is only associated with top-tier schools.
  • Other countries, like Britain and Australia emphasize vocational degrees. The higher education commission in Britain recently recommended more apprenticeships and college-based vocational learning to meet skills shortages and to provide more opportunities for students not on the ‘A-level-to-university’.

2) MOOC Research HUB and MOOC Debate
Big in the MOOC news last week was the announcement of the MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) led and administered by Athabasca University and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. MRI is a $400,000 investment with grants in the range of $10,000 – $25,000 each [details on initial submission]. Though I am pleased to see that MRI will include in its hub for resources, events and meets-ups along with its papers.

1371151702MOOC Discussion
And though the novelty of MOOCs may have dissipated, the debates have not. Last week the Los Angeles Times published a  two-part essay series, MOOCs and the Future of Humanities: A Roundtable with four distinguished professors, Ian Bogost, Cathy N. Davidson, Al Filreis and Ray Schroeder. Of the four, there was one dissenter Ian Bogost who did provide some valid arguments against the MOOC movement— several points worth considering. His closing arguments sums up his position succinctly:

But, overall, MOOCs seem to function first and most powerfully as new instruments of fiscal and labor policy, rather than as educational technologies. It’s perhaps time we stopped talking about their value as instruments of learning, and started talking more about what choices they are making on our behalf while we are arguing on the internet about their educational potential.  Ian Bogost, Georgia Tech [LA Times]


  • Though research is needed, it’s discussion and dialogue about MOOCs that will move higher education forward by determining how [or if] MOOCs will meet the education needs of post-secondary students and life-long learners.
  • A reader of this blog, Robert Connolly, made this excellent point in a recent comment, “The novelty of MOOCs is past. Now is the time to get down to the real business of what these things are going to become.
  • It is time to roll-up our sleeves. We need to determine how to leverage MOOCs, and other modes of online learning to meet the needs of diverse populations of learners; it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

3) Ed Tech Tools

  • Flipboard is one of my favorite tools for collecting content from the web to read conveniently on my iPad. Flipboard recently upgraded the application to be available on Android, Kindle and Nook platforms. Link to an excellent article on how to use Flipboard from edublogger.
  • Evernote is becoming my application of choice to organize content. I am able to  keep notebooks for projects where I can ‘clip’ links, images and more. Recently a reminder feature has been added.

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