UT Considering Massive Open Online Courses

The University of Texas at Austin is negotiating with Coursera and edX, massive open online course companies that make content from elite universities available for free on the internet.

Ante Vekic

The University of Texas at Austin is considering getting into the MOOC — massive open online course — game.

During a special presentation Wednesday to the University of Texas System Board of Regents on blended and online learning, Harrison Keller, the university's vice provost for higher education policy, said that UT is in negotiations with Coursera and edX, two of the most prominent companies engaged in the mass distribution of course content from elite universities for free online.

"We are looking into this with great interest," UT President Bill Powers told the Tribune.

Coursera already sports an impressive roster of nearly 20 institutions from around the world, including Stanford University, Princeton University, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Rice University in Houston. The other company UT is talking to, edX, is a collaboration between Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley.

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The concept of massive open online courses, the topic du jour in many higher ed circles, is relatively new — both Coursera and edX have launched within the last year. There are still many questions about what universities should be putting into and getting out of the efforts, financially and otherwise.

"These are very complex deals," Keller told the Tribune. "There are lots of different dimensions around intellectual property, and in the event that there were revenues that were generated, there are a lot of things that would have to be worked out."

He also noted that there are other questions about maintaining quality and control over the courses, which include interactive assessment and feedback activities that make them significantly more involved than programs that are merely posted online.

"We don’t see these as replacing what we do with our learning management systems or what we’re doing on campus," Keller said, "but there are things you can do to leverage the capabilities of the platform and the scale of the audience."

UT is evaluating which on-campus courses would be best suited to mass online distribution, Keller said. He indicated that participating in such programs, which do not offer degrees, could be a tool for recruiting students and give people around the world a better sense of UT's standards and course offerings.

An announcement of the outcome of the negotiations could come in the next few weeks. "These aren't idle conversations," Keller said.

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