Spreading knowledge beyond the classroom

Online courses are becoming more of a staple in higher education and Butler University has decided to follow suit.

Recently, Butler added online course options to its curriculum, starting this summer.

Massive Open Online Courses—MOOCs for short—have made way in the online learning conversation.

MOOCs are online courses available to everyone, regardless of age, said Julianne Miranda, the senior director for the Center for Academic Technology.

“It’s about how one person’s knowledge, ideas and insights can empower another person’s,” Miranda said.

The term was coined back in 2008, but the courses took off in 2011.

At that time, 160,000 students from more than 190 countries enrolled in an Artificial Intelligence taught by Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor.

Most courses are free and college credits are rarely awarded upon completion.

“One of the ideas is that you can go take one of these MOOCs and get some skills that will help advance your understanding of a topic or maybe help you do something better at work,” Miranda said. “This is a low-risk way to explore topics. If you fail or pass, no one knows but you.”

The courses are hosted on a multitude of platforms, including websites like Udacity, Coursera and edX.

Heather Hazelwood, senior information systems specialist, said a platform is somewhat like an app store. Users can find a variety of topics and courses available and can search by their interests.

Most courses are taught by professors. Lectures are recorded. The videos and assignments are posted on the MOOC, making the user responsible for the level of engagement.

The open nature of the course options will help higher education institutions gauge how students function in online learning environments, Miranda said.

“We could take the best practices out of them and bring those to teaching and learning here at Butler,” Miranda said.

There is no talk about a MOOC development at Butler yet.

“We’re dipping our toes in the e-learning by starting with our online summer classes,” Hazelwood said.

Hazelwood is studying for her master’s at Butler. She has enrolled in MOOCs through Georgia Tech and the University of Edinburgh through Coursera.

“Being in a MOOC or any fully online course requires consistent activity,” Miranda said. “It is very easy to prioritize other things over this experience, partly because I am only engaging in it from the standpoint of being curious, but also because I am not an ideal online learner.”

Miranda said that she would ideally prefer a blend of face-to-face instruction and online work.


Sophomore Rithvi Melanta works with technology and software at Information Technology and thinks online learning is helpful and convenient with today’s technology.

“You may not get collaborative learning, but you can do things on your own time,” Melanta said.  “There’s so much software and programs coming out now, and you can find anything online these days, like helpful tutorials. It’s just so much easier to take an online class.”

Miranda said online learning is not for everyone, both from the instructor and student standpoint.

“It’s really important to note that while tens of thousands of people may come into a MOOC, the completion rate is very low,” Miranda said.  “That’s one of the downsides.  Lots of people go into the MOOC, and very few people actually finish.”

Miranda said right now the MOOCs might be more hype than substance due to the newness of the idea. Only 2.6 percent of institutions actually have one.

“There’s no business plan for MOOCs right now that would make them appear as something sustainable and viable for higher education,” Miranda said.  “I think we’ll see some progress in that area, and I would suspect that MOOCs will play an important role in a liberal arts education going forward.

“But right now, our conversations are more about teaching, learning and engaging and what we can learn from these disruptive technologies that are happening.”


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