Northern Kentucky University officials won’t rule out joining a trend to offer select online courses to thousands of students outside of the traditional university system, but added there are no formal plans to take part at this time.
An online teaching model, Massive Open Online Courses, makes classes available to students not enrolled at a university. Courses are automated and allow for large-scale classes, in some cases with tens of thousands of people enrolled in a single course worldwide.
One website, Coursera, offers classes from 33 universities including Ivy League schools Princeton University, Columbia University and Brown University. Other domestic schools working with the site include Ohio State University, Stanford University and Duke University. International schools participating include Hebrew University of Jerusalem, University of London and the University of Melbourne.
Vicki Berling, executive director of Educational Outreach at NKU, said some departments, including the College of Informatics, have discussed how the university could provide one of these large-scale courses, but no formal plan is in place to begin offering this type of course at the university.
These classes often have huge initial enrollments. Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported 150,000 participants for a single course it made available on circuits. About half of those students completed the first assignment and only 7,000 students completed the course.
Berling said the trend is to make these classes open worldwide regardless of student preparedness.
“Universities aren’t clearing students to make sure they have the proper prerequisites for a course,” Berling said. “It’s literally just out there as open content.”
Gail Wells, NKU’s provost, said once students at a sponsoring university successfully complete a course, they can often apply to have it added to transcripts for college credit.
“Some students will enroll in the class and will receive a grade and have it placed on transcripts, but not all students in the class follow that model,” Wells said. “Then there is this whole other universe out there that enrolls but doesn’t get any credit. They are not in the chat rooms. They are not doing the homework. They are not being graded.”
Wells said while these classes are currently free, there is a desire to monetize and market universities through the process.
“There are a lot of universities looking at how we can exploit this, because some of the best schools are offering these courses,” Wells said. “It’s very exciting to think about the potential to capitalize on that.”
Steven Wilkinson, chairperson of NKU’s department of mathematics, said it could be difficult to make the concept a successful one at NKU.
Wilkinson said a regional university will have a more difficult time attracting learners from outside the university to take part in a class that casts its net worldwide. He also pointed to financial concerns that aren’t as daunting at the nation’s most prestigious universities.
“The Stanfords and Harvards have endowments to pay for larger courses and almost use them as advertising for their institutions,” Wilkinson said.