Stephen Gundy

Schools not sold on free online courses

Although popular in the U.S., the idea has met a lukewarm response with Greater Victoria universities

Many post-secondary hopefuls scrimp and save to afford an education.

But there is a cheap alternative.

Thousands of people worldwide are now are taking advantage of massive open online courses (MOOC).

The courses are broadcast online – lectures and all – for free through elite schools that include Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

So far, the MOOC idea has been met with a lukewarm response in Greater Victoria.

“Initially MOOCs started out as collaborative online discussion groups, but more recently it’s like Silicon Valley has just discovered it,” said Steve Grundy, vice-president academic at Royal Roads University.

Not including MOOCs, Grundy said the Internet is full of lectures and demonstrations that can be valuable to a post-secondary education.

“A lot of classroom content is in video form, but it’s not particularly exciting,” Grundy said. “I liken it to printing a book, you don’t get the interaction with a professor for the price of a text book.”

Grundy has heard of individual MOOCs drawing in 125,000 people. He said it won’t be the same as attending the class in person because individually communicating with a professor isn’t possible.

“So far (MOOCs) are free. But that is clearly not sustainable,” Grundy said.

RRU does offer “open education” resources online with discussion resources available.

“We are not really into MOOCs,” Grundy said. “I do see the value in MOOCs with us the same way we use text books.”

At this point RRU professors aren’t using MOOC content from other universities, but Grundy said professors may start incorporating the online courses from other schools into their programs.

MOOCs are on the radar at the University of Victoria, but there are no official plans for the university to start offering them.

“We are certainly watching the trends and some of our faculty have expressed interest in it,” said Catherine Mateer, associate of academic planning at UVic.

“We certainly offer online courses, but open access isn’t something we are offering right now. The future is still an open question about how they will evolve and what the value of them will be. We are very closely watching them though.”

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