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ANU joins MOOCs rush with edX partnership

ANU has become the first Australian member of Massive Open Online Course provider edX, with ANU professor and Nobel Laureate…

Nobel Laureate and ANU astronomer Brian Schmidt will teach one of ANU’s first open online courses. AAP/Alan Porritt

ANU has become the first Australian member of Massive Open Online Course provider edX, with ANU professor and Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt to teach one of ANU’s first online courses.

edX is owned jointly by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and aims to provide education to one billion people worldwide within 10 years.

The move comes after ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Young last year said ANU was unlikely to ever become a major online provider, arguing ivy league universities risked devaluing their product by offering it to the masses for free.

Professor Young today said that edX was “the right fit” for ANU, and that the offering would allow the university to have its education seen by thousands of people around the world.

Professor Schmidt said edX brought together the best universities in a non-profit model, which was entirely appropriate for ANU.

“It will help us potentially teach students who can’t come to ANU for a range of reasons, but more interestingly, help us reach high school students and help us make up for some of the deficiencies in secondary education around the country due to shortages of highly qualified teachers,” Professor Schmidt said.

The move by University of Melbourne to join MOOC provider Coursera, and the subsequent publicity it received, is likely to be part of the reason ANU has partnered with edX, said Andrew Norton, program director of higher education at the Grattan Institute.

“I would say it’s a combination of Brian Schmidt wanting to do it and ANU wanting to raise its profile,” Mr Norton said.

Mr Norton said Professor Schmidt would be a drawcard in attracting students to the course from around the world, however added that the University of Melbourne had attracted good numbers to its online courses without the need for academics that were known outside the institution.

The first two ANU courses through edX will be Astrophysics taught by Professor Schmidt and astronomer Dr Paul Francis, and Engaging India, taught by Dr McComas Taylor and Dr Peter Friedlander.

The courses are expected to be fully operational in 2014 after a trial period this year.

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12 Comments sorted by

  1. Brian Schmidt

    Distinguished Professor at Australian National University

    So many of us were excited at the ANU by the prospects of joining EdX and we convinced the Vice Chancellor, despite his initial worries, that we would make the University stronger, rather than undermine its business model. With EdX, the ANU students will use the course as preparation for what we do in class - and so we will value-add a lot in the teaching process, beyond what you only get in the course. Furthermore, we can extend the reach of the University from Acton, across the country, and across the world. What a better way to recruit good students, than have them take a few ANU courses, and then come to our campus and get all the other things we can offer on campus. The non-profit nature of the venture means we can ensure we can be true to the University's mission and even extend it- I like the prospects of being able to provide specialised courses for Schools across Australia to help in the education of students regardless of where they live.

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  2. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    This is, incidentally, an interesting example of university decision making which is so different from the 2 models most commonly understood: the hierarchical decision making of companies and other bureaucracies, and the consensus of the community group.

    I think the link to the report that ANU was unlikely to ever become a major online provider should be to

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/unis-to-prevail-over-threat-from-online-courses/story-e6frgcjx-1226483393581

    But escaping the local, surely the big news is that edX is expanding from its founders Harvard and MIT

    https://www.edx.org/press/edx-expands-internationally

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  3. Deborah Lupton

    Centenary Research Professor at University of Canberra

    I often wonder when reading about MOOCS that are not designed for profit - who pays the academics who offer the content?

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    1. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Deborah Lupton

      I presume mooc teachers are allowed to include mooc development and teaching within their allocation of time for teaching and that therefore academics' time on moocs is covered by universities from an allocation either from the centre or the faculty.

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    2. Brian Schmidt

      Distinguished Professor at Australian National University

      In reply to Deborah Lupton

      So while ed-X is non-for-profit this does not mean that the Universities themselves cannot charge for courses downstream. All but one University in Australia is a non-profit entity anyways. So clearly the Universities pay our salary's, and the Government funds the University. But part of my job description is to educate the next generation of scientists - so all consistent from my point of view.

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    3. Deborah Lupton

      Centenary Research Professor at University of Canberra

      In reply to Brian Schmidt

      Presumably the government does not fund universities to offer MOOCS as the students are not paying any fees? Given that universities' budgets are already very stretched, how can universities afford to offer such subjects?

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    4. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Deborah Lupton

      Government grants are an average of 42% of universities' revenue, altho this varies between universities - government grants are 60% of the ANU's revenue. Most of the balance is from domestic and international students' fees.

      While universities always complain about under funding, they reallocate substantial funds to higher priorities, usually research, and most have a fund for discretionary allocation to special projects. I don't know, but I imagine that Australian universities' participation in moocs is currently being funded from the discretionary funds.

      If moocs succeed, last long enough and are considered sufficiently valuable they will be given their own budget, with less reallocated to research and perhaps to other forms of public education and community engagement. As Professor Schmidt and others have observed, moocs could pay for themselves by recruiting aboout 1% of their participants into standard programs.

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    5. Deborah Lupton

      Centenary Research Professor at University of Canberra

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I guess the question is whether academics will be expected to add MOOC teaching or similar on top of their current workloads. I'm all for public engagement (which is why I write for The Conversation and my own blog) but much of this tends to be unpaid labour.

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    6. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Deborah Lupton

      I would think it most unlikely that academics would be expected to add mooc teaching to their current workloads, for at least 2 reasons. First, most academics already are heavily committed, as you observe. Secondly, in their start up the biggest cost for moocs is not teachers' time but the development of learning resources and software interfaces which edX costs at $0.25 million per subject

      http://chronicle.com/article/How-EdX-Plans-to-Earn-and/137433/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

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    7. Craig Savage

      Professor of Theoretical Physics at Australian National University

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      As Brian perhaps suggests, some teachers would be willing to find the time to do this in order to substantially expand their reach.

      The $250,000 per edX supported course includes perhaps $200,000 of production assistance. This seems a top shelf figure to me. My guess is it would include the development of cutting edge simulation technology for the course.

      edX offers an alternative low cost self-service model that requires the university to do all production. This would be video post-production and online assessment implementation, at a minimum. I expect most universities could do this for substantially less than $200,000 per course.

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  4. Alex Reisner

    retiree

    According to The Australian: "Professor Schmidt said his course would be pitched at first-year science students and would assume knowledge of calculus and high-school physics," and that it would first become available in 2014.

    This gives plenty of time for those that might want to brush up on their calculus and/ or their year of high shool physics to make use of the Khan Academy's offerings (https://www.khanacademy.org/about).

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  5. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    In order to support those high school students deprived of adequate teaching, the NBN needs to be supported.
    All academics should recognise that the antagonism of the conservative parties to the "internet super highway" is, in fact, antagonism to education in general.
    Can the nation expect that academics will be arguing for the best "educational" result at the upcoming federal elections?
    Arguing forcefully and vigourously as the circumstances require?
    Against a recalcitrant Main Stream Media which is notoriously antagonistic to both the NBN and education?

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