The past year has witnessed a silent revolution in the academic realm. Instead of traversing the globe to benefit from the rich minds at the likes of MIT and Berkeley, top professors are available right at the doorsteps of any one with an internet access!
If the word MOOC has flashed before your eyes, you have guessed it right. Massive Open Online Courses is a big wave of opportunities for the people on the wrong side of geographical and financial divide. All that is needed now is a device to get connected to the internet and a reasonable command of the English language to grab a flavor of that dream education.
Major MOOC Providers
Though the concept of a free access, web based, on-line course for large scale participation was there for some years, the year 2011 became the turning point when Stanford University offered three hugely popular courses with more than a 100,000 registration in each one of them! Professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, both from Stanford University, later founded Coursera. This proved to be the proverbial first drop of rain followed by the torrent that is still going on.
With more than 200 online courses to choose from and a massive community of 2.4 million plus courerans, 33 university partners (8 non USA), this is the number one site for any one interested in MOOC.
Besides coursera, edX and Udacity are offering MOOC programs. edX is a partnership of MIT and Harvard universities. Presently, edX is offering courses from six prestigious US universities including University of California, Berkeley and The University of Texas System. Sebastian Thrun’s Udacity is also offering close to two dozen courses.
MOOC happens to be predominantly a USA based trend but it is catching up internationlly. Recently, 12 universities in the UK have launched Future Learn, their flavor of Massive Open Online Courses. EU’s Erasmus program is also considering MOOC. With hundreds of courses, it might rival the top USA providers.
Opportunities and Challenges
The MOOC trend, like all new avenues, is full of opportunities and challenges. Most of these stem from the sheer class size as well as social, racial and geographical diversity of the students. The participating students might themselves be teachers, researchers, business people, government officials, etc. each having their own mind-sets and legacies .
History, literature and social sciences subjects have a strong perspective and bias based understanding component, which at times, will become more challenging for the course teacher to handle. This apparent challenge is also an opportunity for the teacher to listen to all the different versions of the same narrative coming from different people and, through sharing, provide opportunities for building socio-cultural bridges.
The strongest positive web element of Massive Open Online Courses is then the interactions, discussions and sharing of the views which was never a class room possibility before. This will hopefully bring people from far away lands closer to each other.
On the technical side, MOOC is one of the rather rare opportunities to train and empower people technically so that they can address their problems through the use of modern science and technology.
The Big Question
One rather questionable aspect of Massive Open Online Courses is the establishment of control and creation of plastic symmetry in human society. Will the thoughts and values of the developed nations replace the global diversity and socio-cultural richness by synthetic uniformity?