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MOOC and you’re out of a job: uni business models in danger

FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION: The rise of online and blended learning and the development of free online courses is set to transform the higher education sector. We’ve asked our authors how to remake the…

Academics and universities might need to be careful of what they wish for with free online education. Job image from www.shutterstock.com

FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION: The rise of online and blended learning and the development of free online courses is set to transform the higher education sector. We’ve asked our authors how to remake the university sector so it can best respond to this revolution.

For two weeks, we’ll be running a selection of their responses. The series will conclude later this month with a panel discussion in Canberra co-hosted with the Office for Learning and Teaching and involving the Minister for Tertiary Education, Chris Evans.


Consider this scenario.

There are 36 universities employing 36 academics who each offer a first year mathematics course. The 36 universities collaborate and develop a single first-year mathematics course which is available to all students online and for free.

Do the universities need the 36 academics?

Does the government need 36 universities?

The answer to both questions, of course, is no. Academics and universities have been quick to jump on the Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) bandwagon, but they may become less enthusiastic as we begin to see the dramatic, and perhaps unintended consequences in store for higher education.

Why academics should be wary of MOOCs

At the moment, academics already use technology to create and host courses, usually through a Learning Management Systems (LMS). Unlike a MOOC which is offered by brand name universities for free online, the LMS is only accessible by university staff and students. Job promotions and university income depend on this course development, particularly through book publications later on.

So if most academics already use an LMS, why should the use of MOOCs be any different?

The problem is that MOOCs change several dynamics associated with course delivery; changes academics may have not considered.

One of the first reasons academics should be worried is the potential for completed MOOCs to count toward “prior learning credits”, which include working, training, volunteering and activities in the community that can count towards a formally recognised qualification.

So far only a small number of universities worldwide have offered credits for MOOC courses, and if they do, students are required to undergo additional university examinations.

But prior learning credits could be awarded to students who have completed a MOOC without additional university assessment.

Chari Kelley, vice president for LearningCounts.org, which is a subsidiary of the US Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), recently said regarding prior learning credits based on MOOCs “we are set up to do that. The infrastructure is there.”

This gives MOOCs the potential to be recognised in university programs – allowing for greater competition between them and traditional universities.

Slippery slope to outsourced education

Another issue is the way open, online education could affect the privatisation of higher education and the role of academics.

Already technology has facilitated a move away from chalk-and-talk lectures toward more project based learning, workshops (sometimes online) and online forums and meetings. Many academics have also embraced multiple choice or online examinations through their LMS.

This shift in course delivery has also seen the academic’s role change, becoming more akin to course coordinators. Universities are hiring casual staff to manage student projects, workshops and online activities. Academics are now primarily responsible for setting and marking examinations.

The next logical step along the MOOC pathway is for universities to collaborate and develop examinations that are based on the MOOC courseware. The examinations can then be centralised and outsourced.

Students would attend examination centres, be verified and carry out multiple-choice or quiz-type questions that are machine mark-able. With this achieved, the academic no longer has a role in course delivery and is too expensive to keep on as a course coordinator.

Not possible?

It’s already happening in the world of multinational companies. They offer industry qualifications and training by private education providers. The final qualification examination is carried out through local accredited testing centres. Non-technical people verify the identity of the person completing the examination, oversee the person carry out an online, multiple-choice examination, and issue a certificate if the person is successful.

Research-only universities

Several Australian universities already identify academics as “research-only” or “teaching-only”. Earlier this year it was reported that Monash University has identified 196 teaching-only jobs, 1,058 research-only jobs and 1,444 jobs in teaching and research.

Other universities reported to have teaching-only roles include Melbourne (107), Swinburne (164) and Newcastle (156).

The number of academics identifying with teaching-only roles has increased over the past decade to between 10 and 15%.

With the potential for undergraduate education to be outsourced, does this mean teaching-only academics will become redundant?

With courses run through MOOCs and centralised outsourced examinations, many universities will have already answered the question: do we need all the academics we have?

But then comes the next question: do we need all the universities?

Australian universities with low research profiles and high undergraduate and vocational teaching focus will be identified and asked to justify their future.

Private industry will argue for university closures and low-cost examination testing centres to be opened in their place.

Raising the alarm

Speaking at a high-speed broadband and higher education forum last month, Australian National University Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young warned MOOCs could be Australian universities' “own worst enemy”. “Once you have given away something,” he said, “it is very difficult then to make people pay for it”.

At the same conference the Minister for Broadband and Communications, Senator Conroy said:

It’s only taken us 112 years to get a national curriculum, I don’t think we’ve got 112 years to work out what we want to provide in the globalised digital education world…. What is a lecture worth if the best lecturer in the world at MIT is online for free for all to access?

Senator Conroy’s call for more rapid change highlights an urgent need for academics to get involved in the online learning discussion now.

For academics, the advent of MOOCs may be the beginning of a perfect storm where technology will provide a means to centralise courseware and provide for automated assessment for undergraduate courses.

Of course, we can’t know for certain but time may well prove that academics joining MOOCs now could be the first lemmings off the cliff.

We’d love you to take part: leave your comments, join the discussion on twitter.com/conversationEDU, facebook.com/conversationEDU.

This is part four of our series on the Future of Higher Education. You can read other instalments by clicking the links below:

Part one: Online opportunities: digital innovation or death through regulation?, Jane Den Hollander

Part two: MOOCs and exercise bikes – more in common than you’d think, Phillip Dawson & Robert Nelson

Part three: How Australian universities can play in the MOOCs market, David Sadler

Join the conversation

85 Comments sorted by

  1. Michael J. Lew

    Senior Lecturer, Pharmacology and Therapeutics at University of Melbourne

    The influence on universities of online courseware will vary with the nature of the university and the expectations of their students. The 'content' of many courses is readily communicated by online courseware, but the content is not necessarily the most important component of a university degree. Students change and grow in many important ways while completing university degrees, and I think that the relatively abstract personal, social and, of course, intellectual results of a university degree…

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    1. Tracy Heiss

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michael J. Lew

      True. Whether we like it or not, the inevitable shift towards online education vastly outweighing on site/ campus learning is going to render many, if not most of us, obsolete. We need to reinvent ourselves; develop a language for our new, absolutely irreplaceable role as 'motivational facillitators'. Get in first, so to speak;)

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    2. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

      President of ONLINE Learning Co non-profit

      In reply to Michael J. Lew

      I agree with you.
      But only 2 % of the people can afford that .
      Today colleges are expensive, families cannot afford it.
      Quality of colleges getting worse due to no finance.
      So MOOCs are solution. Are they good enough. Not yet. But elite universities can provide better MOOCs since they have all the research and money to do that .

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  2. Mat Hardy

    Lecturer in Middle East Studies at Deakin University

    There never seems to be any mention of QUALITY in these discussions, just volume. Education and learning are two different things.

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      Hi Mat, you're right. The key issue for government and therefore universities is to do more with less. I'm not sure how effective this approach is, but it has certainly been a driver for change over the years. I remember having more than 30 contact hours per week and now the students get 16 if their lucky. Does this reduction in contact hours improve quality or is it one measure of permitting more to be done with less?
      regards, Mark Grregory

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    2. Rob Crowther

      Architectural Draftsman

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      Good comment Mat.

      However, the economic system is push out a product that looks like the real thing for as little cost as possible.

      Since Dawkins decided Higher Education was a commercial enterprise in 1988 and since the other mob had 11 years to disagree but chose not to then I am afraid your employer is nothing more than a commercial entity. The people of the country via its parliament have decided that for you.

      Also, just because commercialization of your work sector is going to result…

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

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Rob Crowther

      Dawkins did not decide that higher education is a commercial enterprise: the unified national system of higher education he established was almost completely public. He argued for a massive expansion of higher education on mainly instrumental or even economic grounds.

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    4. Muvaffak Gozaydin

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      Matt Hardy
      Yes You are right.
      I did ask the same question.
      So far only quality Massive online courses are from MITx + Harvardx
      They are non profit, they give the same courses as oncampus courses,
      they provide certificates after a very rigid examü, they will charge a small fee for exams too ( not this semester ) That means they are not free as most people say .
      I, an employer, will happly hire those attended MITx + Harvardx with good grades in their certificates .

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    5. Muvaffak Gozaydin

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      Matt Hardy
      Yes You are right.
      I did ask the same question.
      So far only quality Massive online courses are from MITx + Harvardx
      They are non profit, they give the same courses as oncampus courses,
      they provide certificates after a very rigid examü, they will charge a small fee for exams too ( not this semester ) That means they are not free as most people say .
      I, an employer, will happly hire those attended MITx + Harvardx with good grades in their certificates .

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    6. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

      President of ONLINE Learning Co non-profit

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      Mat
      You are right.
      Therefore I say please select good MOOCs by non profits .
      MOOCs by non profits will get better too .They have the research and money to do that .

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    7. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

      President of ONLINE Learning Co non-profit

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Please take the course by MIT Circuits
      That is beautiful.
      I am sure you will want your stuıdents follow that and you do not need to repeat the same lecture every year.

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  3. Deborah Veness

    Educational Developer

    MOOCs do not threaten universities, for one very good reason: teaching.
    While learning may occur in MOOCs (and apart from those that offer some form of assessment or credential, the only people who will be able to attest to this are those who participate), _teaching_ is practically non-existent. So long as Australian universities take teaching and supervision seriously, we will attract students.

    This fuss reminds me very strongly about the fear that was generated way back at the turn of century…

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    1. Joyce Seitzinger

      Lecturer in Blended Learning

      In reply to Deborah Veness

      Ah the old "universities will survive because of the quality of their teaching" argument. You're not the only one in here commenting on that Deborah.

      I agree that students learn better from "(t)he interaction students get with an informed lecturer who is able to provide personalised, tailored formative feedback and guidance." And that they "long for contact with their teachers, preferably face-to-face. If that isn't possible, they want a real person on the other end of their connection, guiding…

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    2. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Joyce Seitzinger

      Hi Joyce,

      thank you for your comment, it points out what we all know is happening now. It is only a small step to outsource the MCQ exam and to utilise casual staff for any contact sessions - if there are any at all.

      Will MOOCs improve quality or not? Is there any reason to improve quality, as year one and two courses are focused on mass teaching with limited resources now?

      regards, Mark Gregory

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    3. Deborah Veness

      Educational Developer

      In reply to Joyce Seitzinger

      I do not defend bad teaching.

      Good teaching - whether face-to-face or online - is better than a bucket full of interesting, up-to-date content bolted onto a discussion board with a quiz at the end if you are lucky.

      A much, much more interesting question is this: how is university teaching different from teaching in the school or the VET sectors?

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    4. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

      President of ONLINE Learning Co non-profit

      In reply to Deborah Veness

      Deborah
      You shoul understand that there are two kinds of universities
      1.- Teaching universities , they prepare people for life to make living they are called colleges in the USA
      2.- Research universities are after science and research to make peıople happy, to serve for the universities to make better teaching, to serve government and private sector to do lots of research , plus to prepare online courses for MOOCs .

      MOOCs will kill the colleges if colleges are not smart enough.
      See my blog www.savecolleges.blogspot.com

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  4. Julie Leslie

    GIS Coordinator

    I also second the comments on quality of teaching. Perhaps MOOCs will ensure a better, more consistent, teaching and learning experience.

    I always found it beyond reasoning that, just becuase someone has a uni degree of some sort, it was automatically thought they could teach. I had some beyond woeful uni lectures in my time. TAFE, which does require some sort of teaching qualification, has a more even quality of teaching (yes the content is less academic - but it is taught in a more appropriate way).

    If MOOC results in some poor quality uni lecturer's lossing their jobs I'm not sure I'd be sorry (They should see it as a kick up the pants for being so complacent). It is a bit like the manufacturing argument. Yes, manufacturing is declining in Australia - BUT if you deliver a quality product in a niche market you can do quite well for yourself.

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  5. Tim Mazzarol

    Winthrop Professor, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Marketing and Strategy at University of Western Australia

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for another interesting and thought provoking article. The emergence of MOOCS is indeed creating a stir in higher education circles, but I think it is still premature to write off the academic and their conventional university.

    For anyone seeking to understand the MOOCS phenomena I suggest reading a paper by John Daniel from Korea Open University titled: "Making Sense of MOOCS: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility" (see: http://www.tonybates.ca/wp-content/uploads/Making-Sense-of-MOOCs.pdf

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    1. Deborah Veness

      Educational Developer

      In reply to Tim Mazzarol

      I couldn't agree more. The core of teaching is the interaction students get with an informed lecturer who is able to provide personalised, tailored formative feedback and guidance. Neither form of MOOC described in Daniel's paper (which is spot on, IMO) do this.

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    2. Craig Savage

      Professor of Theoretical Physics at Australian National University

      In reply to Deborah Veness

      A significant fraction of the income that teaching generates for universities comes from large first year classes. Their profitability is improved if they are taught by low-paid casual or contract workers.

      The valuable teacher-student relationship you describe is not necessarily part of that experience.

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    3. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Tim Mazzarol

      Hi Tim,

      I have been thinking about a couple of your points and might I suggest that organisations like Google - which now has its own MOOC - will be trying to see if they can make money out of integrating a MOOC with search, youtube and advertising. It will be interesting to see what happens in this space, but monetisation can occur two ways. Governments monetise by saving money and if they can get rid of half of the academics and universities then this might be argued as an effective monetisation…

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

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      I agree. Google's book digitisation also seems relevant. A lot of Apple's early work was in primary schools so it has the early background in this field. Publishing giant Pearson is broadening its interests, and indeed has an agreement with UNE. SEEK has an agreement with Swinburne.

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    5. Deborah Veness

      Educational Developer

      In reply to Craig Savage

      Often true, but I know that really good university teachers can provide formative feedback that addresses learning difficulties common to large classes and also useful tailored feedback to individuals. It might not come from the mouth of the university teacher, but it will provided as a result of good teaching. I'm thinking here of some of the managed peer support and peer teaching strategies employed very effectively in many institutions of higher education, both nationally and internationally.

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    6. Joyce Seitzinger

      Lecturer in Blended Learning

      In reply to Deborah Veness

      Yes peer assessment and "plenary" formative feedback to a large cohort are effective strategies for large university courses. I don't know how widespread they are and I'd love to see some statistics on that.

      These strategies are not the purview of universities. In fact the earliest MOOCs were premised on peer support and collaboration. And Coursera is now scaling peer support and assessment up. And they struggle with the same thing as the universities. Scale and quality.
      Audrey Watters wrote eloquently on this:
      http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/hack-higher-education/problems-peer-grading-coursera

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    7. Alison Moore

      Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, University of Western Sydney

      In reply to Tim Mazzarol

      "So far nobody has worked out how to make any money from MOOCS."

      This is a pretty crucial point.

      I think it is WAY preemptive to imagine MOOCS replacing university courses. I am doing a coursera course at the moment, and it is VERY different to any kind of university study I have done or taught myself, in several respects.

      1. it is free to students and entails no committments of any other kind ffrom them either ie. attendance (not even in online forms)
      2. there is no 1-1 communication between me and the lecturer of any kind
      3. there is considerably LESS content in terms of duration of the course, assessments and work demanded of the student
      4. there is no accreditation.

      MOOCS of recent emergence seem to be going more the way of a kind of supplementation or taster to higher education.

      It is also just damn useful for people who need particular bits of knowledge but don't need accreditation for them ie. professional development.

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    8. mixmaxmin

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Alison Moore

      Facebook ring a bell... Not making money, but I wouldn't mind having that as a problem with a billion users to pick and choose from.

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    9. Alison Moore

      Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, University of Western Sydney

      In reply to mixmaxmin

      yeah but facebook didn't displace some other paying system...the question is why would universities use MOOCS INSTEAD of their paying courses....that is what does not add up.

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    10. Muvaffak Gozaydin

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Deborah Veness

      Deborah
      I say
      there is no teaching any more

      there is learning now . One must create learning environments .

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    11. Muvaffak Gozaydin

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Alison Moore

      Dear ALISON
      Probably I am the only one in the world to do a feasibility study for online courses.
      ONLINE use technology.
      Technology means SCALE.
      To be feasible for an online it has to have SCALE.
      Scale can be attained by
      --- Being global
      --- Being the best school in the world
      Then cost is less than $ 1 and if provider charges only $ 10 providers can make billions profits.
      The most expensive online course development costs today $ 1,000,000
      Divide that to 1,000,000 students in 5 years…

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    12. Muvaffak Gozaydin

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Alison Moore

      Dear ALISON
      Probably I am the only one in the world to do a feasibility study for online courses.
      ONLINE use technology.
      Technology means SCALE.
      To be feasible for an online it has to have SCALE.
      Scale can be attained by
      --- Being global
      --- Being the best school in the world
      Then cost is less than $ 1 and if provider charges only $ 10 providers can make billions profits.
      The most expensive online course development costs today $ 1,000,000
      Divide that to 1,000,000 students in 5 years…

      Read more
    13. Muvaffak Gozaydin

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Alison Moore

      ALISON
      I know why MIT + Harvard doing Massive ONLINE
      1.- World recognations more than they have now
      2.- To learn " how people learn " That is their research project
      3.- They do not lose money, on the contrary they can make billions $ if they reach as they say 1 billion students .
      4.- They do not lose any of their $ 50,000 tuition paying students on the contrary it will cost less to deliver oncampus courses
      5.- They will world power .

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    14. Walter Adamson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Alison Moore

      Well actually Facebook reported revenue of about $1.2b in the last reported QUARTER, and a profit They employee about 1000 of the best and brightest and effective computer engineers and computer scientists in the world - more than all the Australian universityies combined. They run their global system with 100% uptime and daily updates and weekly upgrades at an efficiency of 20 to 40 times that of, for example, Austalian banks whose systems are arguable far less complex. And as for not displacing…

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    15. Colin MacGillivray

      Architect, retired, Sarawak

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Can't be long before a top world University offers a degree via MOOC with only the final exam (or perhaps exams after completing each part of the degree course), administered at the University itself. With perhaps a viva to be sure there's no funny business. Obviously it will charge for and make a profit on that part of the process. Google might even be talking to one as we write. This will happen.

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    16. Rowan Kunz

      Chief Learning Architect

      In reply to Tim Mazzarol

      I realize I am jumping into this conversation a little late.

      I definitely agree with many of the comments made by Tim in relation to MOOCs - specifically:

      1. Teaching and learning are complex and require a lot more than just participating in an online lecture with a few multiple choice tests.
      2. The content on Udacity and Coursera does have very little content, simplistic presentations and reliant on very basic "tests" + lack real explanation of theory and required no additional reading…

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  6. mixmaxmin

    logged in via Twitter

    Point well made...
    Here is an interesting interview/article with Salman Khan on CNN - http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/04/my-view-the-future-of-credentials/
    What all these articles and discussions show is that the end user - consumer - is going to decide what happens in the future.
    All other walks of life have been affected by technology and the economies of scale it can afford why not education - is there something untouchable about education?

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    1. Muvaffak Gozaydin

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to mixmaxmin

      Not the end user, consumer is going to decide.

      We, employers, will decide to hire or not .

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  7. Craig Savage

    Professor of Theoretical Physics at Australian National University

    Hoards of twenty-something tech entrepreneurs, and their slightly older venture capital paymasters, have laid siege to the multi-trillion dollar higher education industry (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/septemberoctober_2012/features/_its_three_oclock_in039373.php).

    They see traditional academe as exposed by the current rethinking of its value proposition, e.g. Senator Conroy's comments in the article. Their contention is that the existing physical platforms (universities) can be replaced by software platforms. If successful, this will remove the middle-men between the student and teacher, increasing the cost-effectiveness of the relationship. This is exactly what is happening in many other industries.

    Academics who value their jobs, and the universities that value their academics, should perhaps innovate faster than the entrepreneurs. We can do this - after all we have a 1000 year first mover advantage!

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    1. mixmaxmin

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Craig Savage

      "Academics who value their jobs, and the universities that value their academics, should perhaps innovate faster than the entrepreneurs. We can do this - after all we have a 1000 year first mover advantage!" One would think so! Other industries have struggled as well see large department stores and publishers - sometimes the first mover advantage does not count if you don't change how you think.

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    2. Mark Smithers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Craig Savage

      Unfortunately universities can't innovate faster than entrepreneurs. The intrinsic organisational structure of universities coupled with the huge embedded human and physical infrastructure that has been put in place to try and attempt to massify an elite model of education delivery mitigates against rapid innovation (or innovation of any kind in fact).

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  8. Mark Smithers

    logged in via Twitter

    Sorry Mark you're wrong, MOOCs are not an existential threat to the current Australian university 'business model'.

    I've been doing a MOOC for 18 years. It's called the Internet. It's a connectivist MOOC. From it I've learned most of the high level skills that I use every day including how to write software and how to understand educational theories. It's allowed me to connect with leading thinkers and practitioners in a range of fields. I can study whatever I like whenever I like at a pace that…

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Mark F. Christopher

      I have recently heard three Vice Chancellors say they consider MOOCs a threat to their university. I quoted Prof Young in the article because ANU is one of our premier research universities. There is obviously a divided opinion on what MOOCs will mean in the future.

      Mark Christopher thank you for linking to the blog article, but equally there are many with a different point of view. One factor that the blog highlights is the requirement to consider distance education equally and how might this model be applied to the norm.

      I think we have started the process to find out.

      My point is that we need to start thinking and getting engaged as technology is moving rapidly and organisations are starting to spend considerable amounts on how to use MOOCs and other online learning platforms.

      Some of these universities will inevitably cooperate like they did with Open Universities Australia and then the game will change more rapidly than it is now.

      regards, Mark Gregory

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    2. Alfonso J Sintjago

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Yesterday I wanted to buy a book on leadership on Amazon. Well, I bought 3 out of a list of 200 that a professor recommended. For me at least, if a book is over $15 then forget about it, I am not buying it. I can do something better with my money. I ended up buying 3 books for around $12 each, but what I found most fascinating was my reaction towards the books that were $60. I was dismissive of them and thought to myself, "You got to be kidding me". So what does this all means to me, as more information is available people are less willing to pay for information and there is a need to emphasize other services. So far there are educational services MOOCs are unable to provide.

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  9. Walter Adamson

    logged in via Twitter

    Time will tell but I'll put my money on those who believe "we've seen all this before" being tragically (for them) wrong. I'm puzzled by the "teaching" argument as while I've seen many fine high school teachers who practice good teaching I've rarely encountered the same at Universities. Perhaps I'm well out of date but lecturers I had at 2 universities were the epitome of poor and even disgraceful teachers who were never measured or held to account for their appalling teaching technique. They were…

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  10. Colin Long

    Victorian Division Secretary, National Tertiary Education Union

    It is important to avoid the hyperbole associated with MOOCs and online learning. Online learning is important and clearly valued by many students. But it doesn't, and won't, replace the value of the on-campus experience.

    If Australian universities think they will be able to compete in a purely online, global "market place" for education they are kidding themselves. Why do an online degree with an Australian institution when you could do it with a prestige US one?

    Australian universities must…

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Colin Long

      Hi Colin, you highlight good points that need to be discussed with universities, because I have a feeling that the use of MOOCs has become one of those "holy grail" moments - we gotta have it but don't really know what it is nor what it will ultimately cost.
      I hope to see the NTEU form a working group to tackle the issue of MOOCs and online learning in general now that so many Australian universities have indicated they will join the gold rush.
      regards, Mark Gregory

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  11. duncan mills

    Social Ecologist

    Not being a teacher I am not in a strong position to show the way forward. As a retired business person I was staggered by the resources required to provide an effective learning opportunity . I did my Masters of Applied Science Social Ecology externally with attendance at residentials, which seemed a more focussed model.

    One can only applaud innovations that make education more universally available, if quality does not suffer. Universities need to very quickly review their strategic position…

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  12. Mark A Gregory

    Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

    A minor change has been made to the article that was necessary due to a technical problem overnight. A section on prior learning credits has now been restored.
    regards, Mark Gregory

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

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    Of course that great champion of the online revolution Minister Conroy still doesn't have his speech on his web site - his latest speech was delivered on 05 September 2012.

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  14. Neil Gibson

    Retired Electronics Engineer

    Retailers are being bypassed by shoppers using the internet and this is another example of how the internet will have a profound effect on everyone including Universities. Standardisation of courses and internet dissemination would vastly decrease costs of tertiary education. Such standardisation would be anathema to traditional universities but now schools have a common syllabus it is not such a great jump. Any commercial organisation with interstate branches would minimise their costs this way. There is no reason that Pure Maths 1 for example should not be the same at all universities with common documentation and course preparation. This would reduce academic workloads and costs. Common examinations would also maintain standards across the states. MOOCS clearly points the way forward in education.

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  15. John Simons

    Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts at Macquarie University

    Futurology is always difficult but the issue here - it seems to me - is that whatever the threats and opportunities posed by MOOCs they are probably here to stay and they will be market/consumer driven. In other words it doesn't really mater what we think as we are not in control. Whether we can get some control is another matter but that is likely only to be achieved by engaging with and shaping the MOOC agenda.

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    1. mixmaxmin

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to John Simons

      That key word "control" is what all this is about - not to mention the gate-keeping mechanisms that are being threatened.

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  16. Cormac Scanlon

    Unemployed

    My recent experience of undergraduate "multi- science" is that course materials were prepared in some kind of downloadable way. These materials in most cases were lifted from a late edition of some American guy's textbook. Often times we would be expected to buy the textbook. The materials would be read out in a lecture hall, perhaps along with an example not from the same text, though this would be unusual. Problems would be set from the textbook, or lifted from a couple of textbooks, some of which would be answered later in a tutorial session. The lecturer would assign to each of his (occasionally her) courses a couple of hours access time to the anywhere up to 200 students enrolled.

    In my opinion, for universities to be relevant in a teaching sense into the next decade, students would want to be getting a better experience than this, for the money they are paying.
    Perhaps universities should consider whether or not they are actually places for teaching at all.

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  17. Peter Kovesi

    Research Professor

    The often quoted dropout rate from a MOOC is about 80%. If you are the provider of a MOOC this may not matter because the surviving 20% is 20% of a large number of students. However if you are the user of a MOOC this is a serious problem. Imagine if the nation's 36 universities replaced their first year mathematics course with a MOOC and 80% of the students dropped out. This would be a national disaster!

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    1. Rob Crowther

      Architectural Draftsman

      In reply to Peter Kovesi

      I know mathematics is severe lament of University lecturers overseas. I know this because I self learn maths and I read their comments on the net and in the preface of their books.

      It appears to me from their comments that students are passing first year maths courses through watching maths being done and through getting past papers and knowing how to do the specific set of problems that allow for a pass.

      They have then coined the phase 'Maths is not a spectator sport'.

      A particular lament is the typical student has never opened their text and so cannot ‘read’ maths. Despite this, they must set the assessments so these people get through.

      Could it be that MOOC will do what the lecturers/professors want to do but the system will not allow for it? Could it be that MOOC, for these introductory units, would provide for a student who actually does maths and thereby raising the bar and not lowering it?

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  18. Corey Durward

    Learning Designer

    Smart academics are already using MOOCs. By referring their students to lectures on Coursera or Stanford etc they are not wasting their time reinventing the wheel delivering content and can actually use that time to facilitate the learning process with students through small group or even one on one discussion. Learning is much more than absorbing content, and if the content is already out there, why not use it and focus precious face-time on active learning methodologies that promote higher order thinking and comprehension.

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    1. Corey Durward

      Learning Designer

      In reply to Rob Crowther

      Just another title for Educational Designer. One who works with academics to design curriculum, lessons, activities etc and guide them in appropriate/best use of technology for facilitating teaching and learning.

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

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Corey Durward

      In the 1980s I knew them as instructional designers. I also found them to be far more knowledgeable of and expert in designing learning activities than most discipline academics.

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    3. Corey Durward

      Learning Designer

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      That's because most academics don't have any training in education and don't think of it as more than standing at a lectern, reading notes and tapping the spacebar on their crappy Powerpoint. Though that is changing.

      Instructional design is another term, but a bit out of vogue these days and more associated with 'training' than 'education'.

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    4. Alison Moore

      Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, University of Western Sydney

      In reply to Corey Durward

      Corey's expertise sounds intriguing. I would certainly love to get professional support from someone like him. But I do wish people here would stop generalising about academics being all lazy, not caring about teaching and knowing nothing about it. That my be true of some, but the repeated generalisation functions similarly to a racist stereotype -ie branding of a supposedly homogenous collective the behaviour of particular individuals.

      We all actually are required now in most univerisities to do compulsory pegagogy training when we begin a new contract. Many of us also read pedagogic scholarship and attend workshops and conferences about academic teaching skills and methods.

      I have seen and experienced some AMAZING, committed, passionate and congenial teaches in the 3 degrees in which I have been a student, and the 7 universities in which I have worked.

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    5. Muvaffak Gozaydin

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Corey Durward

      Corey
      You are very smart. That is what I have been saying.
      Even I go further.
      Why not your college accepts the certificates of MITx as a transferred credit to your college's degree programs .
      You as a professor can make another exam if you wish .
      Then college saves 10 % for each course they transfer. Then you can register 10 % more student too . You do not lose any fee.
      Please promote your idea in the world.
      In fact Colorado State University did that. They accepted one UDACITY course as transferred credit to their degree program . Wonderful .

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    6. Muvaffak Gozaydin

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Corey Durward

      Corey
      You are very smart. That is what I have been saying.
      Even I go further.
      Why not your college accepts the certificates of MITx as a transferred credit to your college's degree programs .
      You as a professor can make another exam if you wish .
      Then college saves 10 % for each course they transfer. Then you can register 10 % more student too . You do not lose any fee.
      Please promote your idea in the world.
      In fact Colorado State University did that. They accepted one UDACITY course as transferred credit to their degree program . Wonderful .

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    7. Walter Adamson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Corey Durward

      I'm interested in, and out-of-date, with this idea that academics have teaching skills and that is their "competitive advantage" over MOOCS. Since The Conversation aims to be fact-based and has a strong academic audience then can we please know:
      1. In Australia. how many academics who teach have formal teaching qualifications?
      2. How many have completed recognised formal teaching training even if not a qualification?
      3. How many are performance-measured on teaching outcomes?
      4. What are those "teaching outcomes" as opposed to operational statistics such as the percentage who "passed" etc?

      If we understand those facts then we can begin to understand the MOOCs versus "teaching" - and if we don't have the facts we'll just have to continue our conjecture on this issue. And Allison we all know some wonderful teachers in academia, in my case those exceptions proved the rule.

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

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Walter Adamson

      There are no national statistics on your 1st and 2nd questions and I'd be surprised if many universities knew the answers for their own staff.

      I don't understand fully your third question, but I'd be very surprised if any Australian university measured the performance of its academics by their pass rates.

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    9. Corey Durward

      Learning Designer

      In reply to Alison Moore

      Thanks Alison. I'm sure you have similarly skilled people at UWS.

      I didn't mean to generalise, and when I said things were changing I was alluding to the mandatory pedagogy training that many universities now induct new academics with, as you mention. I certainly didn't mean to imply they were lazy. Quite the contrary. Many are overloaded and that contributes to low quality teaching.

      You are right of course that there are many excellent and passionate teachers in Higher Ed. We only have to look to the recent OLT awards to see such exemplars.

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  19. Ian Reid

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Here’s another analogy: I remember some years ago a senior Librarian (on a national level) complaining that academics were ignoring the specialist search engines that effectively used carefully tailored metadata, and were just using Google instead - and wanted to know how they could be stopped. Well… we know how that ended up!

    The Internet changes everything, but not in predictable ways. I have recently registered for courses run by Coursera, EdX and Google – I suggest others do too – there is much to criticise, and also much to learn.

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  20. Harrison Polites

    logged in via Twitter

    As a recent graduate - who was heavily involved with many of my Uni's inner workings - I can fully understand where Mark is coming from.

    MOOC's may be rolled out with the best of intentions, but if admin see an avenue for cost cutting they will take it.

    MOOC's could potentially exaggerate the current identity split going on in the higher education scene - the balancing act between running a business and providing a valuable service.

    While the roll-out pace is accelerating, it’s good that we still have time debate the topic before the impact of this tech trend is felt - though I suspect that the MOOC trend is beyond being reversible now.

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  21. Dr. Kevin Tant

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Hi, an interesting article. However, Monash University does not have teaching only positions, but rather education-focussed positions which are leadership roles in education. They are research based and promotion is based on three factors including research, leadership in education and service. Our STARLab facility uses technology to integrate our graduate attribute objectives with academic excellence and this has proved to be a successful learning and teaching model in the Faculty of Business and Economics. I always enjoy debate in the higher education area and your thoughts and ideas provide something to think about. Anyone who wishes to see our approach can view the 5 minute video at

    http://www.buseco.monash.edu.au/aaf/research/starlab/

    Kevin Tant
    STARLab Coordinator.
    Department of Accounting and Finance.
    Monash University.

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Dr. Kevin Tant

      Hi Kevin,

      thank you for the clarification, I used information that was reported in a media article and it appears to have been a "one hat fits all" approach to identifying what roles people are in. Management leadership education roles that include research and publication might have confused the issue as it appears someone has identified education to mean teaching and learning only.

      Personally I consider program development to be scholarship, but unfortunately many others do not and those that specialise in this area appear to hit a ceiling at Level C.

      regards, Mark Gregory

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  22. Richard Helmer

    REsearch Engineer

    Hello

    thanks for the perspective of the brave new digital world

    me thinks the key lies in "students are required to undergo additional university examinations."

    maintain control of assessment and where you apply your brand...so long as its desirable ....people may pay to be assessed/demonstrate their elearning skills to get a ticket to a better place...unless some high quality place does this all for free for everyone and becomes the sole provider

    in the meantime... lets see if someone can hand out an enginneering degree in two weeks of intensive examination!... doesnt matter [?] where the students have learnt it...just so long as they pass 'your' test conducted according to your standards... ...now also...is there an advantage in having the same degree from more than one university?...dunno...lets see if anyone can be bothered

    me thinks at the end ofthe day the instituion will be judged on the quality of its graduates

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  23. Jo Gilbert

    PhD candidate

    Much of this discussion seems focussed on the university perspective - fair enough. But I wonder if there are any statistics or discussion on the number of students that may be attracted to university studies from having a taste of university through one of these courses?

    As a mother of several young working adults that are considering university, but who have no real knowledge (despite having a perpetual student in the house) of what their chosen field may be like, or confidence that they could…

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Jo Gilbert

      Hi Jo, your comment is important as MOOCs are valuable for distance education, people who want to get back into education or simply to learn something. There are many good reasons for MOOCs to be supported and sponsored by Universities. I do hope that your children listen to your excellent advice and hopefully they will move forward towards undergraduate education and future challenging careers.

      May I say that your point should not be lost in this discussion, and to some extent I think most people agree that technology is a part of the future - we just need to work out how to best utilise technology to benefit future generations.

      regards, Mark Gregory

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    2. Muvaffak Gozaydin

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Mark
      So far only good MOOC ( I do not call it MOOC , I call it MOL = Massive ONLINE , they are not free as said so ) is MIT + Harvard + Berkeley . Rest is commercial, for profit projects.
      MIT started its long range plan 12 years ago in 2001 with opencourseware project which is being followed by 100,000,000 people in the world right now .
      MIT started its MITx project, they were right, so Harvard followed MIT .

      First they are non profit. They do not need money . They are the best schools of…

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    3. Muvaffak Gozaydin

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Mark
      So far only good MOOC ( I do not call it MOOC , I call it MOL = Massive ONLINE , they are not free as said so ) is MIT + Harvard + Berkeley . Rest is commercial, for profit projects.
      MIT started its long range plan 12 years ago in 2001 with opencourseware project which is being followed by 100,000,000 people in the world right now .
      MIT started its MITx project, they were right, so Harvard followed MIT .

      First they are non profit. They do not need money . They are the best schools of…

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  24. Muvaffak Gozaydin

    logged in via Facebook

    Mark
    It is an excellent article .
    Lately I found more comments and articles from Australia they are smarter than American parts .
    I have been fighting for NATIONAL CURRICULUM in the USA for K12 and also to certain extend in HE. As you said why we need 36 algebra courses in the universities . May be not one but 2-3 is more than enough.
    You analyised perfectly the smarter we will become the less universities we will need . Digital photography is in and KODAK is bankrubted .
    The same will happen…

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  25. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

    President of ONLINE Learning Co non-profit

    There is a natural law.
    Supply and demand.
    Nobody in the world was able to change that .
    Today a low cost, good college education is demanded in the USA.
    Then MOOCs came as a solution as a supply mode . It is not ripe yet, but it will be .
    First there are two kinds of universities at least in the USA
    Teaching Universities or colleges, to prepare you for life to make a living
    Research universities , doing science and research for the universities and government and private sector .
    MOOCs will…

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