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Recruiting Intelligence

Joint Venture: How MOOCs Bring Faculty and Administration Together

A little research study called "To Mooc or not to Mooc: Strategic lessons from the pioneers: an analysis of administrator and faculty motivations" by Insidetrack and ACE (American Council on Education) caught our attention. The survey reflects views of faculty that have actually participated in teaching via these digital channels. (For the uninitiated: MOOC = Massive Open Online Course). The report authors summarize their findings as follows for administrators and faculty:
  • Sharing knowledge more broadly and advancing pedagogical development are key motivations for both groups
  • Neither group sees MOOCs as an immediate path to revenue or cost savings
  • Both groups see MOOCs as a way to enhance the on-campus experience, not replace it
  • Both groups acknowledge the significant investment involved in pursuing MOOCs and the limitations of measuring the returns

Faculty in particular sees the clear benefit of MOOCs in the expansion of access to higher education and global reach of higher education. See the graph below. However, developing pedagogy is also seen as an important benefit.

We find it encouraging that the feedback shows the willingness of administrators AND faculty to work together and experiment. Their collaborative approach and shared goals broaden the discussion. The use of MOOC-type technology is expected to become integral to teaching in the future - we just don't know how quickly it will become a standard element of university offerings. For perspective, the first iPad was introduced in 2010. Three years later tablets are commonplace. Clearly a different industry and consumer market there, but we are talking about adoption of a new approach to something that already exists and how quickly it will take hold. And we are talking about how much of the current system will be supplanted by the new approach. Tablets have not replaced desktop, laptop or phone - but they have taken market share from each of them in terms of how consumers use them. And tablets, or iterations of them, will certainly be with us for a long time. We believe MOOCs will follow a similar path.

Back to online education and the survey: the analysis also indicates the possibility of using the technology to motivate faculty, improve student preparedness and learning outcomes as well as develop stronger bonds with alumni. Using MOOC-type teaching for graduate, executive and continuing education is envisioned as a future use (see slide 2 below). These are exciting directions and open terrific new opportunities...with revenue potential.

Survey comments addressed the expected issues such as avoiding the overhype that is developing around MOOCs. To be clear, technology won't replace professors and there will be a need for greater collaboration between administration and faculty.

The survey results repeatedly mentioned the need for increased investment. We do find it surprising that senior leaders are expecting to move MOOCs off their third-party platforms. We have not seen indicators that universities are willing or able to make the investments needed to support and staff the increasingly sophisticated infrastructure needed to deliver and compete with the third party platform providers. We will be interested to watch this develop going forward. Rest assured, we will report to you what we are seeing.

The report provided interesting advice from faculty who had taught a MOOC:

  • Don't try to design or teach like you are in a classroom
  • Enlist a support team and empower them
  • Don't just test the technology, practice your delivery - over and over
  • Be prepared to discover that your teaching style needs work

About one third of the faculty highly recommended the experience to a colleague. The question arises: what share of future faculty will be motivated enough and have the right talent and personality to be successful MOOC "actors"? As many professions have experienced previously, the skill set and profile change with the use of media and technology.

Lastly, we respect the judgement of senior administrators and faculty not to focus on revenue generation of these digital teaching experiments at this stage. We were disappointed to find little focus on alternative future monetization and marketing of the content. This is an area we are VERY focused upon (see our slide presentation from the recent EAIE conference in Istanbul).

If experiences in other industries with technology and media trends are any indication, administrators and faculty are underestimating the likelihood that a small number of universities and professors will dominate the market for MOOC content:

  • They will invest.
  • They will create compelling, sophisticated and high quality content.
  • They will be supported by recognizable brands that will be licensed to a large number of other academic institutions.
  • Their investments will lead to reduced costs and hopefully improved quality of "lecture content" supported by in-class teaching, exercises and mentoring.

Years ago few thought that adjunct faculty would carry a substantial percentage of the teaching load in our universities. From our point of view, we look at the bright side of MOOCs and the potential that this high-quality, digital content delivery will improve higher education as long as we support students with the needed guidance, structure and mentoring. And yes, it will change the status and role of the professor as a lecturer in front of a classroom. And it may well give rise to a new cadre of sophisticated, knowledgeable mentors/teaching assistants.

Topics: Insights