UW Joins Online Platforms For Free Courses

University of Washington has recently joined some of the platforms to be able to provide free MOOCs to the public. Matt McGarrity, a veteran of the college lecture hall, is so passionate about his subject, the art of public speaking, that he's going to start teaching the course entirely online. Online courses are nothing new; the UW, Washington State University, and several other state schools and community colleges offer some classes and even some degrees entirely online.

The free courses are called Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs for short. Some people consider to them to be a powerful force for good within the education industry. The term was first used by Canadian researchers that were experimenting with different ways of structuring a class in 2008. They co-opted for branding when people realized that there might have been a pathway towards money behind it. The concept of using the internet for higher education isn't particularly need; many of the earlier uses came from university professors that were posting their own work. Many of the professors made their lecture slides, summary notes, and study guides available online because it was more convenient for reference. The only change is that with a severe funding issue, many colleges and universities are having preliminary partnerships with startups like edX, Udacity, and Coursera.

MOOCs are supposed to transform higher education , drive down the cost,, and improve the efficiency of the education system itself. However, there are many who worry that they could become a threat to academic freedom if colleges start using them to replace faculty members with online lecture videos and professors that are just assistants to the realm of technology. There have been a few deals that have been struck that suggest a future where online MOOCs taught at one university could be used for a form of college credit at another.

The UW is the only school in Washington to join two of the dominant online course platforms, edX and Coursera. It is getting a $50,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for McGarrity to be able to adapt his public speaking course for a global audience online. Through the for-profit option of Coursera, the UW offers 14 classes. Through edX, it intends to offer five other courses next year. The free versions of these classes do not offer any credit. The true effectiveness of the MOOCs is not completely known. One of the most troubling facts is that they have a very high dropout rate which suggests that they may not be the best learning option for everyone. The Chronicle of Higher Education estimates that the general completion rate for most MOOCs is only at ten percent. There are no widely accepted surveys that detail how well students who have completed a MOOC are actually able to understand the material that they have been taught in the course. Most of the MOOCs are only able to provide a certificate of completion, which is of an uncertain value currently. It's unknown if these options are ever going to allow people to actually work towards getting their degree, which is necessary for most types of employment.

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