Published on 2012/09/14

Gates Foundation Sees Value of MOOCs in Introductory Instruction

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is trying to see just how influential Massive Open Online Courses can be. After observing their success in teaching advanced topics like artificial intelligence and data analysis to millions of students worldwide, the foundation is planning to award as many as 10 grants of up to $50,000 each to develop introductory and remedial MOOCs.

“We are cautiously optimistic that MOOC’s might be able to improve outcomes for low-income students who are working toward credentials, but there are a lot of questions that we can’t yet answer,” Josh Jarrett, the foundation’s deputy director for postsecondary success, told The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Katherine Mangan.

The foundation is hoping to learn what program areas translate best to the MOOC format, as well as which students benefit most from their availability. Another aim of the project is to find out how educators can support students who are enrolled in online courses, but are not naturally self-directed learners.

Lawrence Bacow, a former president of Tufts University and current president in residence at the Harvard Graduate School of Education told Mangan by email that the outcomes should be welcomed across the higher education space given their ever-reducing available resources and the increasing demand on the industry.

“A well developed MOOC that could be easily customized and adapted locally may be very attractive to many colleges and universities that are under great pressure to control rising instructional costs.”

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Readers Comments

Larry Snyder 2014/01/30 at 8:38 pm

To make MOOCs a viable option for low-income students, it is critically important to convince the gatekeepers of higher learning that MOOCs are not “the competition,” that they are complimentary and hardly disruptive social innovations. In this respect, one could find collaborative inspiration in UC Davis’s experimental undergraduate major in sustainable agriculture, a curriculum combining college credits with a digital badge system. Beyond sanctioning there is the issue of support services for remedial and embedded remedial education. MOOC “specializations” themselves could prove to be the vehicle to prepare and certify navigators and educational counselors interested in outreach to low-income learners. Finally, “offsite” venues such as libraries, union halls, churches, and military bases are far more suitable as learning environments than potentially distractive home settings.

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