The ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features 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 traditional education as we know it.
News Snapshot: MOOCs make headlines this week, though MOOCs in-the-news are barely recognizable in comparison to the original Massive Open Online Course offered in 2008 by Downes’ and Siemens’. Accordingly, Coursera will soon need to drop the letter ‘O’ for ‘OPEN’ with its new Specializations program launched this week. Given the price points that range from $250 to $500, Coursera might consider calling the courses in this program MOC$s instead of MOOCs. Academic Partnerships (AP) also launched a Specializations Credential, though AP’s program has a broader, global scope. Both programs launched within 24 hours of the other’s announcement and not by coincidence; details below.
Another twist on the open concept, you can now pay for a mentor to help you complete a MOOC. Yes for $30 per course you can sign-up for this service and get a MOOC tutor through a company called MOOCs Mentor. With the paid service customers also have access to the MOOC help line, offering one-on-one assistance 24/7. Also in the MOOC world, Harvard and MITx released a beefy thirty-two page working paper offering summaries of seventeen MOOCs offered on the edX platform. To close this week’s post, I conclude with an overview of a promising new writing and sharing platform I stumbled upon this week, Medium, and a link to a nifty tool.
1) ‘Specialization’ Programs Launch from Academic Partnerships and Coursera
Academic Partnerships launched its Specializations Credential two months ahead of schedule in light of Coursera’s launch of its own Specialization program. Coursera and Academic Partnerships were in talks to potentially collaborate on a program, though Daphne Koller told Inside Higher Ed that for “various reasons the timing wasn’t right” (Straumsheim).
When examining both programs, it’s Academic Partnerships’ program that appears to hold the most potential for its university partners. AP seems to provide the institutions’ with most of the control over the program, and strive to support the institutions efforts to generate revenue from the program through scale. The reach of AP programs is far greater than Coursera’s, given that AP plans to translate the programs in several languages.
“Under development for the past 18 months, Specializations are designed to expand reach and increase revenues for U.S. universities, while filling a void for accessible and affordable higher education globally.” Academic Partnerships, press release
As mentioned, Cousera’s program costs the student up to $500 per credential, though Academic Partnership has a different pricing strategy. According to email communication with Jacquelyn M. Scharnick, Director of Corporate Communications for AP, the program cost will be unique to each market:
“The cost of Specializations will be indexed to per capita income and local market pricing in each country they serve and, as such, the price will vary from market to market. Of course, Specializations are designed to help universities achieve scale, so the cost will be competitive.”
Below is what I see of the core differences between the Specialization programs:
- Premise: AP is focused on supporting and growing revenue for the University partners, whereas Coursera, a private company is focused on growing revenue for Coursera.
- Reach: Academic Partnership is committed to global penetration, reaching markets in native languages.
- Support: Academic Partnerships has considerable support behind it, given that the Credential is on the agenda at the upcoming conference in March “The Globalization of Higher Education”, which features keynote speakers that include Hillary Clinton, Thomas Friedman and Sir John Daniel.
Insights: I see MOOCs trending towards a niche of providing vocational education for working professionals, which supports the idea that MOOCs will not replace or even be considered a supplement to undergraduate education any time soon. Udacity is moving in this direction with its recent partnerships with ed-tech companies. And Alison, another MOOC provider, though often flying under the radar, provides fee certification training in similar areas of specialization. However Alison’s model is different from both Coursera and AP; revenue is generated through advertising on its sites.
2) A MOOC Mentor for Hire
Hard to believe that there is a need for this service from MOOCs Mentor, given that most enrollees of MOOCs are educated, working professionals, however perhaps the company’s founder is on to something, with the recent developments of certificate options and typically very low completion rates. The company, founded in India in late 2013, has yet to hit the airwaves as far as I can tell. It promotes a toll-free help lines for United Staes and India. Advertised price for a student I called the number advertised on the website today, which is also the MOOC Helpline number…no answer, or chance to leave a message.
“We are a global enterprise with an Indian soul. Established with the aim of facilitating the outreach of higher education among the masses, we saw promise in Massive Open Online Courses as the future of education. Having studied the teaching methodology, we realized that there was a need to incorporate the human touch into the way these courses are taught”. About Us, moocsmentor.com
Insights: An enterprising business concept on one hand, yet so counterintuitive to the premise of MOOCs. Yet MOOCs are morphing into an education experience that is quite different as already mentioned, perhaps this concept is a glimpse into the future of education.
3) HarvardX and MITx: The First Year of Open Online Courses, Fall 2012-2013
The working paper, a collaboration between HarvardX and MITx provides excellent and insightful summaries of the descriptive statistics of seventeen courses offered between Fall 2012 and Summer 2013 on its registered students and their respective activity levels within the edX platform. The authors provide thoughtful commentary on the potential implications and limitations of the results.
- Sound interpretation of data from large-scale courses, (MOOCs, is threatened by four common fallacies (pages 5 – 8):
- Platforms provide all the data we could want: FALSE. Many variables potentially interesting to researchers aren’t collected, such as students’ prior knowledge, motivations, etc. Thus putting together a profile of MOOC participants in order to draw conclusive
- A small percentage is a small number. FALSE: interpreting the magnitude of numbers is challenging and subject to framing, drawing conclusions based upon an initial frame of reference (i.e. traditonial education)
- A course is a course is a course. FALSE. Courses differ dramatically on multiple dimensions. With so many varying factors, not to mention the course topic itself which attracts a wide array of registrants, the metrics of individual courses should not be used to measure one against the other. The comparison is potentially misleading.
- Certification indicates learning: FALSE. This one has to be the most insightful of all fallacies. While certificates are easy to count, certificates are a poor proxy for the amount learning going on within a course. This is a point I’ve mentioned frequently in my blog posts, we cannot use traditional education methods (such as credentialing) as yardstick for MOOCs success. Thankfully the authors do an excellent job of emphasizing this point.
Insights: This report is a worthy read for anyone in higher education, specifically pages one through nine, and thirty-two and thirty-three which hold the most valuable insights.
4) Ed Tech Tools
Medium: Though I just came across this platform, and think it really cool, apparently Medium has been around since 2012; founded by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone. As per the website:
“Medium is a new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends. It’s designed for little stories that make your day better and manifestos that change the world. It’s used by everyone from professional journalists to amateur cooks. It’s simple, beautiful, collaborative, and it helps you find the right audience for whatever you have to say.” Welcome to Medium, medium.com/about
Any stories I might have missed, please share on my Twitter feed. Thanks!