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Texas A&M faculty group recommends deal to put courses online - The Eagle: News

Texas A&M faculty group recommends deal to put courses online

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Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:27 am, Sat Apr 26, 2014.

A Texas A&M faculty committee has recommended partnering with a nonprofit group to offer free online courses.

The committee released a nine-page report Monday that urges university officials to join EdX -- a nonprofit organization started by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that offers the massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

Provost Karan Watson, for whom the report was prepared, said she was initially supportive of the recommendations, but wanted to gather more faculty input before making her own proposal to Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin.

MOOCs, a controversial and growing trend in higher education, typically are provided through third-party companies at little or no cost to anyone with an Internet connection. They are delivered almost exclusively online and are not for credit -- although most award certificates upon completion.

There are hurdles to clear before A&M offers such courses, but administrators said that, by as early as 2014, people all over the world could learn from the university's top scholars for free, without having to enroll at A&M.

"What we're mostly focused on in this is how to make the learning experience for our students much more effective and better," Watson said.

The committee made seven suggestions in addition to joining EdX. The suggestions include garnering administrative and faculty support, using a bid process to determine which faculty members participate in MOOCs and forming a MOOC advisory council.

The benefits of offering MOOCs, according to the report, include promoting the Texas A&M brand, enhancing recruitment, engaging alumni and fulfilling the university's mission to provide educational opportunities to Texans.

Potential problems include ensuring quality, the cost of joining the nonprofit group, the business model of offering the free courses and incentives for faculty participation.

Watson said EdX sets the membership fee, but the cost to A&M would be "well under $5 million" -- the price that the University of Texas System paid to join EdX in 2012. An A&M System spokesman said Monday that the flagship university, and not the system, was evaluating a partnership with EdX.

There will be development costs for teaching materials in addition to the membership fee, according to the report.

Becoming a part of EdX, or another company that offers MOOCs, would allow A&M to share course materials with other member universities, Watson said. It would also allow the university to track data it couldn't otherwise collect, such as how many students were regularly reading their electronic textbooks.

Watson stressed that the most important part of joining with a nonprofit group such as EdX was not MOOCs, but rather the ability to share materials between universities.

"It looks good to me," Watson said of the report. "It looks like it's important for Texas A&M to be ever more engaged in how we use technology to enhance our students' learning experience. I don't think it will replace faculty one-on-one education with students ... but I do think it can enhance it."

Watson said she was still evaluating how to motivate faculty members to participate and that reducing job duties could be a way to free up their time.

"We need for both a faculty member to be motivated that they have a good idea that would appeal to a lot of people to take it and we would have to be confident the faculty member has the skill set to do it successfully," Watson said.

Faculty Senate Speaker Walter Daugherity said he is soliciting feedback from faculty. He said the senate's Executive Committee will formulate a recommendation to Watson in late July. Watson said she plans to meet with the deans this month and to have a recommendation to Loftin in August. Depending on the recommendation, and how much taxpayer money is involved, the proposal might need the blessing of regents, who next meet in August.

A move for A&M to offer MOOCs would follow what is well underway at the state's other premier public university. The UT System announced in February it would offer nine courses in the 2013-2014 academic year. Just three days after offering enrollment into its first classes in April, the UT system reported that nearly 15,000 students had enrolled.

Harrison Keller, vice provost of higher education policy and research at the University of Texas, said the implementation of the courses through EdX has been going well. He said much of UT's offerings are, for now, entry-level courses and that the audience for MOOCs is global and typically highly educated.

He said the UT System committed $1.5 million for the development of the first nine MOOCs and that the flagship university also invested resources. He said the university offered a stipend of no more than $10,000 for each faculty member awarded a MOOC, and that university administrators selected the nine courses out of 23 proposals.

The initiative garnered high praise from the state's top decision maker -- Gov. Rick Perry.

"The UT System's partnership with EdX is great news for Texas and exactly the type of effort I hope more schools will consider as we aggressively pursue the goals of improving graduation rates and making a college education more accessible and affordable," said Perry in an October press release.

The MOOCs have similarly received the blessing of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

"I support MOOCS that do take advantage of the technology to offer a radically lower price than the current credit hour cost at traditional universities," said Thomas K. Lindsay, director of the Center for Higher Education with TPPF.

Lindsay said he was supportive of the A&M committee's recommendation to offer MOOCs.

"I think that it shows they are recognizing that the ground has moved beneath the feet of the traditional higher education model," Lindsay said.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • elf posted at 1:14 pm on Wed, Jul 3, 2013.

    elf Posts: 1406

    @fromAfar. Thank you muchly!

  • FromAfar posted at 12:22 pm on Wed, Jul 3, 2013.

    FromAfar Posts: 354

  • elf posted at 10:24 am on Wed, Jul 3, 2013.

    elf Posts: 1406

    I've looked but cannot find the link you mentioned. Could you give me the address, please!

  • because posted at 10:09 am on Wed, Jul 3, 2013.

    because Posts: 229

    I think we should be clear that there is a big differences between MOOCS and an online course offered within a degree granting program.

    A MOOC is more like a series in the Discovery Channel, perhaps less entertaining, but with a bit more depth. But it does not allow for feedback. This would be impossible with thousands of people being enrolled. They actually could be offered by TV channels (which would be technically better equipped) and the only reason for Universities to offer them, I can imagine, is advertisement for their programs.

    An online course is more serious. It requires an interaction, both ways, between the student and the professor. The students' home works need to be graded, proctoring places have to be found (near the living places of the students) where the students can take his or her exams, and most importantly students need to be able to communicate with the instructor (for example via Skype, email etc). Thus, as for on-campus-courses, it is not possible to have unlimited enrollments in online courses. I also do not see whether online courses are more effective than on campus courses. In a class environment a student learns for example from the questions of other students, and the professor can answer them for all simultaneously. While, A&M teaches classes with 200 student, I do not see how
    an online course with 200 enrollments is manageable, at least not, with much more grading help, and more teaching assistants, than an on-campus course.
    Nevertheless I see a niche for online courses in the area of continued education.

  • techag posted at 7:51 am on Wed, Jul 3, 2013.

    techag Posts: 179

    MOOCs are not for degrees!

  • techag posted at 7:50 am on Wed, Jul 3, 2013.

    techag Posts: 179

    These courses aren't for a degree. They are intended for the normal Joe to learn for free. There are plenty of ways to stimulate creative thinking and problem solving, you just have to be a good teacher to do it.

  • elf posted at 11:02 pm on Tue, Jul 2, 2013.

    elf Posts: 1406

    @FromAfar, Thanks for the information. I am relieved that the faculty committee did not swallow this bait without objection. There are a number of problems involved in MOOC education that most faculty I have spoken with simply do not think have been addressed, nor have adequate solutions been proposed:. These include:

    1. How testing can be done without cheating being a major concern? If the course is to carry degree credit, this is a big one.
    2. How can lab material can be covered?
    3. How does one put a Sacratic protocol of teaching on line?
    4. How does one stimulate creative thinking and creative problem solving with an on line course. (this is also part of #3)?

    Without these, a science course (and indeed most good university level courses) are simply sub standard and should not count towards degrees.

    Nobody mentioned in the article (except possibly Dr. Watson herself) has a clue as to how to solve these problems. They are just "money making ideas".

  • FromAfar posted at 6:37 pm on Tue, Jul 2, 2013.

    FromAfar Posts: 354

    @elf: There is a link to the full report, which contains the names of the committee members. There are some serious faculty on the committee (Sam Mannan, Simon Sheather).

    The article misstates what is in the report. The committee did NOT recommend that A&M join EdX--"Texas A&M University should consider joining the EdX Consortium." Moreover, the report says, "Prior to joining EdX, the university needs to have the support of its faculty and academic administration. The committee recommends a process be initiated to inform both groups and to gage their support for joining EdX and entering the MOOC space."

  • elf posted at 2:19 pm on Tue, Jul 2, 2013.

    elf Posts: 1406

    As has become common in TAMU administration decisions, the members of the "faculty committee" have apparently remained secret. Secret faculty committees have become the hallmark of Sharp's initiatives. In reality, almost every faculty member I have talked to oppose this move. And by the way, the TPPF is nothing more than a group of wealthy people who inherited their wealth from their parents. They have absolutely no training in effective teaching, no training in higher education, and have no business pretending as if they have. So this boils down to a scheme between Perry, Sharp, the BOR, the TPPF and now apparently Watson to force this onto the University. This action works against the Vision 2020 aspirations of the University.

  • nn posted at 10:25 am on Tue, Jul 2, 2013.

    nn Posts: 154

    Because Harvard does not give you a degree, if you take their courses.

    But you are right A&M would only have a chance if it offered a whole online degree
    (which it already does in some areas). Unfortunately since that would involve grading home work, proctoring exams, as well as being available to questions
    (for example via email or Skype), it cannot be cheaper than on-campus courses,
    and it cannot be a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses), so enrollment has to be limited.

  • grumpyhome posted at 9:53 am on Tue, Jul 2, 2013.

    grumpyhome Posts: 19

    With all due respect to Aggies, why would I even consider taking an edX course offered by A&M if I could take a similar edX course offered by Harvard or MIT?

  • techag posted at 8:45 am on Tue, Jul 2, 2013.

    techag Posts: 179

    Why in the world would this cost millions of dollars to join??? I smell corruption.

  • ag_reality posted at 8:12 am on Tue, Jul 2, 2013.

    ag_reality Posts: 16

    Why does anyone care what the TPPF has to say about this or any other issue? Why does The Eagle bother to ask (and report) the TPPF's opinion in this story? They have zero credibility, zero standing on education issues. MOOCs are not popular among the faculty; we don't want them. Period. If A&M starts pushing this on us, watch how many faculty start leaving. Mark my words.

  • hotdog posted at 6:19 am on Tue, Jul 2, 2013.

    hotdog Posts: 344

    Come on now, my Dad taught me years ago that nothing worth having comes without a cost, so get off this is free. I already see $5,000,000 of free mentioned.


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