Online courses draw attention from administration, faculty

March 4, 2013

Peter Farrell, Kyle Marino
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Massively open online courses, or MOOCs, are a recent trend in the professional academic world. Administration faculty are weighing the possibility of joining other universities in providing credits for the courses.

The premise behind online courses focuses on the flexibility of the student. Enrollment in an online course means no attendance or docked points for absences, taking material at a time that fits the student’s schedule and earning credits toward a degree without entering a classroom.

What makes MOOCs different from regular online classes is the heavy emphasis on online-only learning. Additionally, MOOCs have a heavy emphasis on free education.

Companies like edX, Coursera and Udacity all began in 2012 with a similar premise of offering online education without tethering students to a classroom desk.

Spokespersons from the dean’s office believe that MOOCs can become a productive way to educate people, though they don’t know if they will be implemented at UCCS in the near future.

For a commuter campus like UCCS, the appeal of massive online courses is a unique prospect.

David Anderson, chair head of the UCCS chemistry department and member of the president’s taskforce on MOOC technology, is optimistic, but is cautious about the idea of MOOCs at UCCS.

“Nobody knows where all of this is going to go,” Anderson said.

The Board of Regents and administrative faculty realize that the online courses should be taken seriously as other colleges are beginning to accept MOOCs for credit, Anderson said.

The primary obstacle of MOOCs for universities is adopting a business model and generating revenue. The regents and university administration will do something about it, but they are unsure how to fit it into a business model as MOOCs are free, Anderson added.

UCCS is in the process of forging a tentative partnership with Coursera. CU Boulder is following in step.

At the moment, the online program at UCCS has a handful of undergraduate programs that require a 60/60 split of in-person and online credits. It also offers several more master’s and certificate offerings.

The undergraduate programs offered include health care, criminal justice, business and nursing.

Some senior students would like to have seen more online courses offered by UCCS in the time they spent pursuing their undergraduate degrees.

Polina Reynolds, a senior in biology, philosophy and psychology, has taken online courses from both UCCS and Coursera.

“They are lacking in communication, but technology is improving,” Reynolds said. “[Coursera] classes have a definite structure and a timeline that is motivating, but are also no commitment.”

Kimberly Aronstam, a UCCS alum who graduated in 2009 with a degree in business, echoed Reynolds.

Aronstam said there were no online classes offered  when she was an undergraduate student at UCCS.

“I would’ve killed to take online classes,” she said.

An immovable criticism of MOOCs and strictly-online courses is the lack of hands-on learning material. For students who learn kinesthetically, online-only presents a notable obstacle.

Other students are not so swayed by the idea of learning in a more digital medium.

“It seems like a good idea,” said freshman Jacob Fisher, “but it takes away from the experience you get of learning in a classroom environment and meeting lifelong friends.”

Eleanor Skelton contributed reporting.