Utah State University is hoping to expand the types of courses it offers systemwide in an attempt to expand access for prospective students and allow those already enrolled to have more flexibility in completing coursework.
Those attempts come via something called Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and through USU’s Online Flexible Learning Program (OFLP), said USU Vice Provost Robert Wagner.
The OFLP, to be offered as early as summer 2013, is designed for students who need greater flexibility in completing their degrees, students who wish to take more courses in a given time frame, and students who leave or return in between normal semester start/end dates.
A MOOC is an online course designed to provide instruction for “thousands of students,” Wagner said, as opposed to the 400 online courses USU already provides, which is ideal for a typical class size on campus.
OFLP courses will be designed in two categories: courses in which students begin at any time and complete the course at their own pace; and courses that begin and end during shorter four-week terms as opposed to the traditional 15-week semester.
Courses will be developed that will “alleviate bottlenecks in general education areas,” Wagner said.
Some courses will also be developed using software-based instruction as well as competency-based assessment — allowing “a more personalized, learning-centered educational experience.”
These kinds of classes will also help students who decide to serve a mission, based on the new policy from the LDS Church that allows men and women to serve at an earlier age.
“It will provide general education courses, but we are in the process of identifying these courses,” Wagner said. “We anticipate they’ll be based on the need (for certain courses). We’re hoping by fall we can offer eight to 10 courses and then another eight to 10 in 2014.”
The MOOC currently being offered is ITLS 5245/6245 Interactive Multimedia Production, a graduate-level course, using the Instructure Canvas Network. It reached its enrollment cap of 500 students more than a month before it was scheduled to begin, Wagner said.
“Anyone from around the world can log in and take a course. It is designed to get students engaged in their course work so they can hopefully decide to go to school,” Wagner said. “Maybe they’re exploring (degree options), maybe it’s something they’ve always wanted to do. At USU we’re watching the MOOC trend, and we understand it is a popular thing. As we approach MOOCs we’re concerned about quality; we’re concerned about student experience.”
Wagner said MOOCs have been successful at places like Stanford and Harvard.
In launching this MOOC, USU and the ITLS (Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences) department are monitoring the MOOC to better understand this new delivery model and its effects on teaching and learning, Wagner said.
“It’s a deliberate approach to start out with one MOOC,” Wagner said. “We’re learning as much as we can, so ... we can develop more courses based on this first experience. We want to do it right — we don’t want to do it just so we can say we’re doing it.”
It is not clear whether more MOOCs will be offered in the future, but USU is seeing great results already, Wagner said.
Students are not given credit and the courses are free.
“Eventually we’ll have to look at a model where students are able to earn credit. One of challenges of many MOOCs is that they’re (the institutions) getting thousands of students, but the retention rate is pretty low; students aren’t finishing the courses because it’s free and they’re not being built for quality. That’s why we’re taking our time in learning how MOOCs should be.”
USU President Stan Albrecht had the attention of lawmakers in Salt Lake City last week when he mentioned the MOOC in his annual presentation.
“The challenge here is going to be how do we deliver these MOOCs, but at the same time deal with the issue of assessing student learning and providing credit as a result to that,” Albrecht told lawmakers.