UNC administrators explore online course options

In the University’s effort to keep education accessible, administrators are focusing their efforts on an up-and-coming forum, online education.

And now, they are exploring a new way to put course content online — for free.

Carol Tresolini, vice provost for academic initiatives, said the University is considering a partnership with Coursera, a massive open online course (MOOC) provider.

MOOC providers offer free courses from some of the nation’s top universities to anyone with access to a computer.

Provost Bruce Carney will present a short summary about the strengths and weaknesses of online education — and online course providers such as Coursera — to the Board of Trustees on Nov. 14.

Rob Bruce, director of UNC’s William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education, said the most important element of online education is access.

“I’m thinking of (former UNC-system President) Bill Friday, and he constantly advocated for access, and access to education — distance education really can bring that about,” Bruce said.

The Friday Center offers about 138 courses, which reach about 4,000 students worldwide each year.

Leslie Parise, a member of UNC’s faculty executive committee, said online education is unique because it reaches students who would not otherwise be able to receive an on-campus education.

“Online education should be viewed as something that can further enhance what we are already doing well and bring the best of UNC to more students,” Parise said.

“I believe evolving technology will drive change whether it is initially embraced or not.”

MOOC providers cater to thousands of students per class by posting all class material online in video form.

The courses rely heavily on peer assessments and online quizzes for grading. They also offer a statement of accomplishment signed by the professor upon completion — but it generally has not transferred to university credit.

“A lot of schools have become involved, and we think it’s worth exploring,” Tresolini said.

On Oct. 29, Antioch University at Los Angeles announced that it would become the first U.S. university to offer academic credit from Coursera.

MeHee Hyun, co-chairwoman of the liberal studies program at Antioch, said working with Coursera allows Antioch to tap into the resources of larger institutions while lowering the cost of education for its students.

Bruce said he enrolled in a science fiction and fantasy literature course offered through Coursera.

“It was well done, and I was impressed with it, but it’s not a course, really,” Bruce said.

“I’m viewing a video, but I’m not on a message board or a discussion forum and interacting directly with a faculty member as I would be with a Carolina Course Online.”

Bruce said UNC is exploring the video teaching method Coursera uses. He said it is important to consider whether the video is for flashy effect or if there is substance behind it.

Maggie O’Hara, the UNC-system director of e-learning, said the system is still in the “exploration stage” of its relationship with Coursera.

“We’re keeping a close eye on what’s happening all over the place,” O’Hara said.

“It’s an exciting time to be in education, both as an educator and a student.”

Contact the desk editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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