Texas A&M is close to deciding whether it plans to start offering what's called massive open online courses -- a controversial and growing trend in higher education that relies mainly on lecture videos and coursework evaluated by university faculty.
Provost Karan Watson gave an update to the faculty senate at its Monday meeting, telling fellow professors that a committee of their peers and administrators -- which started discussions in October -- is close to finalizing a recommendation. She then will take their suggestion to President R. Bowen Loftin, most likely this summer.
The massive open online courses, commonly known as MOOC's, typically are provided through third-party private companies at little or no cost to anyone with an Internet connection. They are delivered almost exclusively online.
"In my personal opinion MOOC's are like new books," Watson told the group. "Somebody could go to the library and educate themselves phenomenally well -- it's just not as entertaining, but they could. Somebody can sign up for a MOOC and if they're dedicated and they're disciplined they can get a whole lot out of a really great experience, and I'm for that. I just don't think it needs to be a core part of what we are doing."
Watson said the courses could help share the work of renowned A&M professors to the public, while also helping to attract quality students. Still, she said, such a class could not provide the same level of education as the full student experience.
"What Texas A&M University brings as the true value -- students interfacing with our faculty -- is the entire experience, the extracurricular, the co-curricular, the peers inside the class and the true interface inside and outside of class with the faculty members," Watson said.
The university is also considering hybrid-learning that would allow faculty from different institutions to share online materials, such as videos or recordings, with each other. It also would be offered by the same third-party private company.
"One of the things [the committee] said we should seriously look into, and they're finishing up their report for me now, is that we might want to join one of the companies that has more of our peers involved -- mostly because you can share course materials," Watson said. "Not to displace faculty, but so faculty can decide how to use that material in their own course."
She said the university, if it partnered with a company in such a way, would retain the intellectual property of the course materials shared. She indicated the driving force behind the university considering partnering with one of the companies was primarily for the material sharing, not the online courses.
Watson said if the recommendation includes a significant financial or labor investment by the university, the proposal will be sent to the Board of Regents for approval; their next meeting is in August.
Watson said if endorsed by the proper officials, the earliest the courses could be implemented is spring 2014.
In other business, the faculty senate unanimously adopted an anti-bullying resolution that encourages the dean of faculties and individual colleges to adopt language that clarifies that bullying can be addressed through existing grievance procedures.
Proponents said the language wouldn't change the rules, but would provide a resource for faculty who seek to know more about the policies.
The desire to get more information and input from fellow senators who weren't at Monday's meeting is what prompted the group to postpone voting on a resolution of support for a toll road from College Station to Houston. The project commonly is referred to as the Aggie Highway.
The senate will resume the debate in September when the rest of their colleagues return to campus. Senators said they didn't want to take up a controversial measure when many were absent.