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Smaller Institution Shrinking Open Courses to Provide Pathway to Higher Education

Capitalizing on the popularity of the open online course movement, the University of Maine at Presque Isle has developed an innovative approach that can feed directly into the university’s enrollments.

Coined the “LOOC”, the university is looking into developing a “little open online course” that swaps the gargantuan scale of MOOCs for the high-touch experience of conventional online courses.

UMPI’s open courses are part of an institutional initiative experimenting with open teaching while balancing modest resources. Not intended to be a cash cow, the university sees the LOOCS as an innovative way to recruit new students.

The coordinator of the program, called OpenU, said that while the institution cannot compete with the name-recognition or resources of larger institutions, they can compete on quality.

“We can’t compete with Stanford and the MOOCs,” Ray Rice told Steve Kolowich of Inside Higher Ed. “In fact, the OpenU students will learn side-by-side, virtually speaking, with Presque Isle students who are taking the courses for credit.”

In this sense, UMPI is looking to break down barriers between credit-earning students and the two-seven non-paying students who would enroll for the four open courses.

“Students are not paying, but they are getting the full experience,” Michael Sonntag, the provost of UMPI, told Kolowich. “If they want to write every paper and take every test, our faculty members have agreed to give them feedback.”

This marks a major departure from the approach of MOOCs, where students generally have very little interaction with the course instructor and largely have their work assessed by other students.

Moreover, the university has found an answer to the credentialing issue. Through the prior learning program, the university provides students a pathway to earn up to six credit hours from OpenU participation.

Of course, this is only available to OpenU students who elect to enroll at the university; an option the university has also made easy for LOOC students. Sonntag told Kolowich that the “free trial” approach of the LOOC gives prospective students who may be too timid or unsure of themselves a chance to “test the waters” before paying for enrollment.

And if they like it?

“Well, sure, pay your money and go forward.”