MOOC: the future of education?

It didn’t come cheap, the first Massive Open Online Course from the University of Groningen. It’s starting today and it’s considered the future of education, so we can’t trail behind.

Five other universities in the Netherlands were already offering MOOCs. Then, the Minister of Education Jet Bussemaker too decided that they were the future and made funding available. But the faculty of Economics and Business was way ahead of her: they were already busy developing their first MOOC.

11.000 students, six weeks long

The online multidisciplinary course about decision making was developed by initiators Joeri Schasfoort and Lex Hoogduin at a cost of 60,000 euros. The course will be six weeks long – during that time, people from all over the world can enroll for free and follow along online. Many already are: more than 11,000 students have signed up so far.

Professor Hoogduin from the faculty of Economics and Business is the key lecturer for the whole course, but he’s not the only one who will share his wisdom with the students. He has also invited some guest lecturers from his own faculty and others to contribute.

So, what do these 10,000-plus students get? Quite a lot, in fact. Video clips, background literature and debates set up with their fellow students. In the end, they go (or stay) home with a certificate proving they completed the course.

25 percent will see it through the end

But most of them probably won’t finish it. According to project manager Schasfoort, only 25 percent of students will see it through to the end.  ‘Compare it to a book in a bookshop. A lot of people will flip through it, but only some will actually buy it. However, this does not say anything about the quality.’ Still, 60,000 euros seems like quite a lot to spend.

Is it worth it? ‘There are plans to translate the MOOC into an actual course that will be taught at the University’, Schasfoort says. ‘In this way, the University doesn’t have to pay the development costs of a new course. There are also more intangible ways in which it can pay off. Promoting the University worldwide and the recruitment of students are some of them’, Schasfoort adds.

Another possible payoff is what happened to a professor in Leiden – where Schasfoort also worked with MOOC development – who appeared in one of their online courses and suddenly got cited more often in scientific articles.

The best of both worlds

The team of young enthusiasts involved with the project see a bright future for the MOOC. It may even surpass traditional lectures. ‘Personally, I find it very difficult to sit down for two hours to listen to a lecture in a big lecture hall’, Schasfoort admits.

Nevertheless, teaching assistant Tim Menkveld doesn’t expect them to replace regular lectures. ‘You have to combine the best of both worlds.’ But expectations for the launch are high. ‘Our first MOOC will set the tone for the level of the rest’, says Menkveld. Schasfoort adds: ‘If this goes wrong, it would be very inconvenient.’

Stronger than Facebook?

UK reporter Maaike Vos took part in the first MOOC from the Faculty of Economics and Business this morning. Her conclusions:

‘Before I start, I have to confess that I have absolutely no clue what ‘decision-making in a complex world’ entails. However, since there are no entry requirements other than a ‘solid pre-university background’, this student of the Faculty of Arts must, in theory, be able to handle the course.

The first lecture is divided into plentiful different subheadings. You can start with the first topic, do the dishes, continue with the second subject, buy some groceries, and so on. Personally, I recommend splitting it up: all the new economic concepts made me feel dizzy after a while.

The platform used is FutureLearn and I must admit, it certainly looks fancy. Even better: it works! No errors! The initiators have made full use of the possibilities of e-learning: bullet points and graphs are implemented in the video clips and texts contain links to background information. As a result, the course is as fun as possible.

Nevertheless, the key question is: will I continue to participate without force from outside? Will my virtual classmates provide me with enough peer pressure? Can I resist Facebook while listening to the lecturers? In the end, only time will tell if I will be one of those participants ending up with a 30 euro Statement of Participation.’