Education Revolution Sweeps the Country

Sarah Rockwood, Staff Writer

A new educational phenomenon is spreading throughout the country as colleges open up their courses to the public – at no cost.  Many top-notch universities are providing these Massive Online Open Courses, referred to as MOOC, by offering their classes online in video lecture formats.  People across the nation are taking advantage of the opportunity; some classes have an enrollment exceeding 100,000 students.

Live since last year, organizations such as Coursera and EdX have focused on bringing these classes to the general public.  These for-profit companies are funded by private investors, which allows them to provide the classes for free, and are the interface through which students can access the material.

Coursera is one of the primary providers of available courses, with over 2.5 million users enrolled in 217 different classes.  A wide variety of subjects are offered, ranging from Multivariable Calculus to the Music of the Beatles.  All courses are real classes offered at the respective university.  While a course may contain a semester’s worth of material, the length ranges anywhere from four to 10 weeks.

Anyone is eligible to enroll in a class, including high school students.  Junior Delaney Levine has considered taking a class in her spare time.  “I think it’s really interesting that you can learn about any subject you can’t take a class on in school and don’t have to worry too much about the grades because colleges won’t see it if you don’t want them to,”  Levine said.

Professors across the nation are becoming involved by making their lessons viral.  Philip Stark, Professor of Statistics at University of Berkeley, helped bring Berkeley into the MOOC phenomenon.  By co-teaching three introductory statistics courses online, Stark pioneered Berkeley’s involvement.  “I wanted to get involved because these classes provide opportunities for students who are motivated to learn but don’t have access to higher education.  It’s a way for me to do something really good for the world” Stark said.

Stark facilitates his class primarily through video lectures, which are the same lessons given by the professor to their real time students. In order to prevent too long a duration of passive listening, the videos are broken up with mini quizzes.  A major drawback to the online version of learning is lack of interaction, which is a vital part of synthesizing material.  In an attempt to overcome this hindrance, most classes have discussion forums in which students can engage with each other over the material.  This way, a high school student in California can interact with students on the other side of the planet.

All classes are graded based on quizzes, problem sets, and final exams.  If the class is completed with an above-passing grade (higher than 70 percent), the student is rewarded with a Certificate of Completion from the university that offered the class.  Achieving above 90 percent earns a Certificate of Completion with Distinction, but these certificates are not eligible as credit.

Currently, no credit is offered within colleges for completing the courses apart from recognition, but that is changing rapidly.  As students across the nation are enrolling and completing full college courses, there is demand for credit beyond a certificate of completion.  Coursera and Udacity, another prominent MOOC provider, are beseeching universities to offer credit for their courses through ACE, a higher-education industry group.  Many schools are on the verge of complying.  Last year, San Jose State collaborated with Udacity to provide credit to students enrolled in online courses for a fee.

A controversial issue with online classes is the matter of distributing the final exam.  All students must abide by an honor code while completing any work or tests for the class, but this can be easily disregarded by ill-motivated students.  Many universities are therefore justifiably suspicious of these college credit claims.

One solution being implemented by certain courses is to offer a proctored exam of a similar format as those given at the actual schools.  With a proctored exam, online courses could function similarly to AP classes.  Material is left to be studied and learned by the student, who is given a grade based on their work throughout the class.  At the end of the class, a proctored exam would determine how well they understood the class, and credit may or may not be given based on their performance.

MOOC is opening up the world of more advanced learning to people who may not have access to a college