California State Sen. Darrell Steinberg — shown at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, March 7 — introduced legislation last week that would allow students to earn public-university credit for private, online classes.
For students who spend their time worrying about class registration or whether they’ll be able to enroll in everything required to graduate, a solution could be forming in the Golden State.
Capitalizing on the success of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a California state senator introduced legislation last week that would allow students to earn public-university credit for private, online classes.
The courses would be approved by a panel of faculty leaders from the state’s three higher education systems, and would only be available to students who could not enroll in similar classes on their campus.
“No college student should be denied the right to complete their education because they could not get a seat on the course that they needed in order to graduate,” California State Sen. Darrell Steinberg, who introduced the bill, said in prepared remarks Wednesday. “This is not technology for technology’s sake. It addresses a real challenge.”
MOOCs, which some universities have already approved for academic credit, involve one or two professors teaching the masses — often thousands of people — for little or no cost. They offer hundreds of courses, from Web development to food ecosystems to artificial intelligence.
But with the possibility of California formally endorsing MOOCs, the question of how well these classes can replace on-campus learning is under debate.
University of California Academic Senate Chair Bob Lowell said he supports online learning, but not at the expense of quality instruction.
“The responsibility for putting together courses and approving courses rests with our faculty,” Lowell said. “That’s a huge responsibility. Nothing’s going to happen unless our faculty approve it.”
Powell is concerned with the way in which the proposed law would require MOOCs to be approved. The nine-member panel that would review the new courses, Powell said, was created to manage online textbook accessibility — not curriculum quality control.
“I’m about to appoint three top-notch people (to the committee),” he said. “I spent hours talking to people about what they had to do, and what they have to do is very important. But it isn’t this.”
But Andrew Ng, founder of MOOC provider Coursera, says the best approach to integrating his courses into university structures might not involve replacing classes.
Instead, he envisions uinversities using what he calls the “flipped-classroom model.” In the model, professors can use services like Coursera, which offers classes for free, to serve as pre-lecture background assignments before more in-depth lecture discussions.
“I think the combination of having the online content and the in-person interaction is what would serve students best,” Ng said. “It’s freeing up the instructors time so the instructor can now spend less time in lecture preparation, less time in manually grading homework. And what it does is it gives the professor more time to discuss the topic with students.”
In contrast, Udacity offers MOOCs for $150 each and is already working with one public university in California to replace some on-campus courses with online ones.
Udacity founder and CEO Sebastian Thrun said his classes could be more effective than a traditional lecture, since they force students to move from problem to problem and don’t feature long-winded, stagnant lectures.
Most importantly, he said, MOOCs allow students to advance at their own pace.
“Here, someone will wait for you, someone will give you a second chance. Here, someone will say, ‘Well done,’ if you get it right,” Thrun said of Udacity’s courses. “People say this is the most intimate class you’ve ever taken. That’s shocking, considering that you might think an in-person class is more intimate than an online class.”
Columbia University in New York City is also experimenting with MOOCs, offering courses for both enrolled students and others across the world.
Sree Sreenivasan, the university’s chief digital officer, is helping to examine what role these courses will have in higher education as they expand to reach millions from across the world.
“We are at the very beginning of major disruption in higher education with online learning,” Sreenivasan said. “These MOOCs are just one part in the way in which online education is going to be done in this decade and beyond. … But as with any new technology, there’s always a sense of worry about what happens to the status quo.”
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