Year Three of Massive Open Online Courses at Illinois

This article was created by a Technology Services student employee. Our student employees attend, engage, and report on campus events that feature technology. Students provide a unique perspective on how innovations in technology affect campus life.

By Noah Malmed, Computer Science '15

In the digital age, it seems only natural that we take our education to the Internet. And with the Internet comes the unique ability to distribute content to billions of people all around the world. 

To this end, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) were invented. MOOCs are free or almost-free classes that are open to anyone and, because they are completely distributed through the Internet, have no limit on class size.

There are many different MOOC providers that are attempting to fill different parts of the market. Coursera, for example, provides prestigious college-level courses by partnering with renowned universities.

Graphical information about Coursera, including what kinds of MOOCs are offered and by whom they are taken. Image courtesy of scientificamerican.com.

One such university, as you may not be so surprised to learn, is our very own U of I. 

Jason MockOn Thursday, October 15, I went to a talk featuring Jason Mock (left; image courtesy of linkedin.com), the Assistant Director for the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL) here at U of I, where he leads the development of MOOCs.

Through Coursera, the U of I is currently offering 31 MOOCs such as Operations Management and Cloud Networking. In addition, 56 new courses are currently being developed.

All in all, these MOOCS have drawn in 1.8 million learners and that number will only continue to climb. Learn more about who takes Illinois MOOCs here. 

Going in to this talk, I was curious why the university offers free open courses to anyone when students like me have to apply and pay tuition. Fortunately, Mock answered my question with some interesting points I hadn’t considered. 

Showcasing Faculty

Free doesn’t mean without value. In fact, as Mock explained, free MOOCs provide a lot of valuable advertising. They easily showcase the knowledge of our faculty to the world. In doing so, MOOCs increase the prestige of our university.

So MOOCs are good for the U of I. But they’re also good for the individual faculty who teach them. Faculty who teach MOOCs, he pointed out, are often approached at events by people who know them through their MOOC.

Mock sees this as an alternative to people recognizing professors for their research or papers they have written. This allows faculty to be recognized as both great researchers and great teachers.

Pioneering New Technology

MOOCs are still a fairly new technology and there still isn’t really a solid framework setup for how to run a MOOC well. By investing in MOOCs now, the U of I puts itself in a unique position to become a leader in what may be the future of education.

Educational Research

Getting involved with MOOCs gives the university access to new educational data. Professors who provide MOOCs can teach MOOCs while simultaneously researching how to better engage students online.

For instance, Dr. José J. Vázquez-Cognet is currently conducting research on how class duration affects learning outcomes.

Looking Forward

So what’s the future for MOOCs at the U of I?

CITL is currently working on iMBA, a program where students earn an MBA completely online.

The first two courses for the iMBA program are available. If you are interested in learning more about the iMBA program, click the link above to check out their web page.

It’s really interesting to see all of the work and resources being put into MOOCs. Maybe after I graduate this December, I’ll look into continuing my education through Coursera.