The University should hold more presentations to make its partnership with Coursera more transparent
The founder of a revolutionary educational movement is speaking at the University Wednesday. Daphne Koller, a Stanford professor and the co-founder of online-learning company Coursera, will be giving a lecture at 3 p.m. in Bavaro Hall. It is fitting that the talk will be given in an Education School building, as Koller will be elaborating on ways in which Coursera may provide people of all ages with enhanced educational opportunities. This presentation should not be an isolated event. The University’s future will include increasing its online-education efforts, and members of the University community should have opportunities to become as knowledgeable as possible about how Coursera could change their school’s future.
Koller’s talk could prove very informative for anyone unaware or under-informed about Coursera’s purpose or background. A new buzzword in higher education has been MOOC, which stands for massively open online course. MOOCs are a relatively new initiative but have already allowed hundreds of thousands of people to take online classes free of charge. The University is already well on its way to providing MOOCs for the general public, offering six different online courses this spring.
Even though so many people have already been exposed to Coursera classes, others could remain confused about how Coursera hopes to impact higher education. There are many valid questions regarding the way in which Coursera will alter the traditional classroom experience. Koller’s talk will hopefully touch upon these or similar topics about which many are unsure. Koller will be addressing the origin and growing popularity of MOOCs, according to UVA Today. She will also give a report on the status of Coursera and will address why she believes Coursera can offer augmented educational opportunities for students both on and off college campuses.
Discussing the rise of MOOCs will be especially informative. MOOCs are appealing because they do not involve the same price tag that accompanies a residential college education. As a result, they are sure to help increase the spread of knowledge throughout the general public. Nevertheless, many people, myself included, remain unsure about why schools are beginning to provide MOOCs, especially when MOOCs provide little if any financial benefit. My initial thought was that the University was attempting to be altruistic. I now think it more likely that the University is offering online courses in an attempt to emulate or show that it can be as forward-thinking as institutions like Stanford and MIT. If Koller explains why schools are choosing to participate in MOOCs, it would help to clarify the rationale behind future collaborations between the University and Coursera.
That being said, Koller may not delve into how MOOCs and Coursera will specifically affect the University. Further talks need to occur, then, to address these questions. The University’s involvement with online courses is obviously a major concern for the Board of Visitors. In fact, one of the reasons behind University President Teresa Sullivan’s ouster this past summer was that the Board thought she was too slow to act on providing online educational content. And though coverage of Sullivan’s ouster publicized the University’s desired involvement with Coursera, the way in which Coursera will affect the average University student remains ambiguous. Moreover, because the University has since started providing online courses, it should do more to inform the public about why certain classes are being offered through Coursera and how many online courses it ultimately wants to provide.
To that end, University officials and faculty working with Coursera could give more talks to ensure that everyone is up-to-date with online course initiatives. At the very least, those presentations should aim to assuage some of the major questions that people may have regarding Coursera and the University. The University community appreciates transparency, as this summer showed, and University officials should do more to make the Coursera movement more easily understood. Furthermore, faculty, students and other University members may have differing views on Coursera. Providing forums where all sides can have their voices heard would go a long way toward adequately characterizing the direction in which the University is heading. Koller’s visit can provide background information about MOOCs, and more specific concerns can be addressed over the course of subsequent discussions.
Alex Yahanda is a senior associate editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.