MOOCs – inclusive for consumers, but not providers?

Yet another blog post on MOOCs I’m afraid.

This time though, some thoughts about how we might go about distributing our own materials. In the earlier post where I cite the thoughts of Martin Hall, VC of Salford, some good reasons for going down the MOOC route start to crystallise, particularly around marketing the institution and possibly using the development of open educational resources as a driver to significantly change our teaching and learning practice, both on campus and in partner institutions.

However, if we want to “do a MOOC”, we have to question how we could do it.

Firstly we might consider our own VLE platform. The plus points here are that academic staff know how to use it. Err, that’s about it. We’d need to see if it could be scaled to deal with large numbers of enrolments and logins. Since we link it to our student record system, would we expect that too to deal with massive enrolments?

So – the enrolment issue may be a problem. Our second option is to develop our own software. We would have the expertise in house to do this, but we would have to ask the question – why would we invent something, when big commercial companies have already entered the market.

So the third option is to partner with one of the existing companies  They offer the appropriate software  they can deal with the enrolment issues, and might even share some of the money with participating universities in the future.

So where’s the problem? Quite simply, the main MOOC providers are very choosy about who hey want to partner with.

In the UK, FutureLearn (the MOOC venture led by Open University has recently appointed Simon Nelson as CEO. In this weeks Times Higher Education, it reports that:

Key to the success of the project is reputation, Nelson emphasises. Of Futurelearn’s 17 university partners, almost all are in the top 400 of theTimes Higher Education World University Rankings, while more than half are members of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. “We were inundated with requests to join,”

To select university partners, Nelson drew on “a range of league tables, in order to help us identify which were consistently ranked as the top institutions in the UK”.

However, he denies that this elitist focus will simply allow prestigious institutions to enhance their reputation and potentially threaten the existence of lesser-ranked universities.

The door to Futurelearn is not closed, Nelson insists, noting that more university partners will be announced in the near future.

So at the moment, the UK company does not look like possible partner – their website certainly makes it clear that they ae not looking for new educational providers.

What about the US companies? An article in Inside Higher Ed implies that Coursera and others are similarly elitist.

The contract that Coursera uses with its partners says that it :

commits the company to offer “only content provided by top-quality educational institutions.” To Coursera that means it will “provide only content provided by universities that are a member of the Association of American Universities” or universities outside of North America that are “generally regarded ‘top five’ universities within any country in any given year.”

EdX, the company set up by MIT:

“hosts classes only from 12 universities, including its two founders, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. But edX’s exclusivity was widely perceived, while Coursera’s preferences were less clear. Seven of edX’s nine North American universities are in the AAU.”

So this might be a problem – the companies currently leading the revolution in MOOCs are quite clearly supporting the more elite universities – and you can understand maybe why they do so, because of the perceived advantages of receiving some kind of education form a prestigious institution.

However, it means that the bulk of universities in the US, the UK and elsewhere are frozen out of the development. If they decide that delivering material through a MOOC is part of their well developed and understood business plan, they are going to have to urn elsewhere for the technical solution.