Financial Chronicle | Jul 28 2015 | Op-ed |
I am revisiting the topic of massive open online course (Mooc) for the third time in a year. Reformers of our educational system and the Union government have been engaging with this concept, which has become the backbone of growth in the education sector. A major concern for policy planners is the delivery of higher education to an ever-growing number of students. This has preoccupied government thinking for the past three decades, with the result that they have even resolved that the open university approach could mitigate the numbers pressure to an extent. It is felt that the permission to set up private universities alongside creation of a large number of state and central public universities would be a foolproof approach to resolving the issue. However, it was never realised that the impact of rising broadband connectivity, penetration of digital video delivery systems, expansion of courseware from blackboard teaching to expert-created audio and video tutorials that are fully loaded with animation, and the very powerful and rapid means of communication across the world have opened the doors for students to access the best-of-best teaching practices. Meanwhile, the evolution of personal computers to tablet PCs to smartphones has brought about a remarkable change in communication between individuals. Mooc has ridden this information highway in the last four years.
Jeff Selingo, who is the prime driver for Moocs, has argued in a well-written article titled, “Moocs are not a panacea, but that does not blunt their promise” that “The battle for the future of higher education has landed — at least for the time being — on a concept few in academe had even heard of a year ago: the massive open online course, or Mooc.” He further says, “I can imagine how the format might reduce costs, improve learning, increase access, and maybe, produce revenue for a few universities. The problem is that Moocs probably can’t do all four things at any one institution — and that’s the reason they are not ‘the’ solution to the myriad of problems facing higher education.” Several articles have since been written either supporting or opposing the spread of Moocs across continents. India has joined the bandwagon, albeit at a lower level, by creating a few programmes that are taught at the IITs. However, no concerted effort has been made so far to either draft an academic impact report on the use of Moocs or create a policy document on the right approach to spreading the Mooc philosophy across the country. A recent survey in the USA concludes, “Students enrolled in massive open online course (Mooc) suggests that the courses are supplementing traditional higher education forms and “democratising learning.” Researchers from Duke University studied “13 free, open-access digital courses offered by Duke using the Coursera platform” and found that the courses “are popular among youngsters, retirees and other non-traditional student populations.” The survey and its findings indicate that the younger group and those desiring to learn different disciplines to enhance their professional identity opt for Moocs. Lorrie Schmidt, a lead researcher says, “The idea was trying to get a better handle on individuals, who were underserved, because so much of the popular press has focused on highly educated, white (for the most part), upper middle class folks taking Coursera courses. “The theme that was most pronounced was that Coursera classes were supplementing or enhancing their education that they were getting from either K-12 or higher education formal courses,” added Schmidt. In 2012, Stanford president John Hennessy pronounced that the Moocs were going to be “transformative to education.” But, he added, “We don’t really understand how yet.” However, today, the landscape remains much the same: Mooc is a technology with potentially revolutionary implications for education, but without a precise plan for realising that potential. One way of getting there could be for the leaders of the Mooc movement to look more closely at older methods when education was less massive, less open, and entirely offline.
The ministry of human resources development and other technology departments of the Indian government have invested massive sums in these courses by IITs and venture capitalists, but right now, the main beneficiaries are those who need them the least. The most popular Moocs are in computer science, finance and psychology. They do attract large numbers — sometimes hundreds of thousands to a single course. But the people most likely to stay the course and gain free qualification, are well-educated professionals in their 30s. Review by Moocs providers like Coursera shows that 85 per cent of the participants already have university degrees. So, the bottom line is we should take Mooc as a changemaker in face-to-face education. We should also allow all institutions to do big experiments with creating Mooc material and also critically search for material available worldwide than can be assimilated in our curriculum. This approach would enhance the quality of teaching in our classrooms. (The writer is former chairman, UGC, former vice chancellor SM Pune University and founder director NAAC) – Courtesy