Massive open online courses launch at UNC

Imagine taking a course with 10,000 classmates.

With a massive online open course — known as a MOOC — this could become a new reality for the higher education world.

Coursera and other MOOC providers have made lectures and course materials from top-ranked universities available free to the general public. UNC launched its first one Monday.

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coursera classes at unc

UNC is offering four MOOCs through Coursera:

  • Metadata: Organizing and Discovering Information
  • Introduction to Environmental Law and Policy
  • Fundamentals of Rehearsing Music Ensembles
  • Epidemiology: The Basic Science of Public Health

The course, “Metadata: Organizing and Discovering Information,” is taught by Jeffrey Pomerantz, a UNC professor of information science through Coursera. He is one of three UNC instructors offering courses through Coursera this semester.

“It’s very different from teaching a classroom-based course,” Pomerantz said. “There’s a lot of prep time that goes into creating a course, whether it’s a classroom-based course or a MOOC, and the preparation is very different for a MOOC.”

Pomerantz said because the course is still within its first week, it’s difficult to provide much detail about the course experience yet.

He said he does not think MOOCs — should they at some point be offered for credit — would threaten the small size of some classes such as seminars. He said MOOCs would be more applicable for replacing large lectures, such as those with 200 students.

Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, a member of the N.C. Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee, said there is a 20-percent increase each year in the number of students taking advantage of online courses.

And Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke and another member of the joint committee, said he feels that incorporating online coursework is beneficial at all education levels.

“I think there is a pretty strong interest (or) concern that taking advantage of online course work at all levels of education — whether it’s K-12, community college, or the university level — is something that probably should be done, (and) certainly should be looked at,” Blackwell said.

He said he disagrees with the idea that classroom-based instruction is always the correct or best method of teaching.

“I don’t assume that a body standing in front of a student, in front of a classroom, is always going to be the best way of delivering the instruction as compared to someone doing it online,” he said.

He said he also supports a blended method — combining in-classroom interaction with online content. Brandon also said he supports the idea of increasing online course offerings such as MOOCs.

“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity… for nontraditional students,” he said, pointing to people who are re-entering school to obtain new skills for employment.

He said he thinks that MOOCs will yield credit in the future.

“I definitely do (think that MOOCs will be for-credit courses in the future), because the UNC system has to compete with all the other online systems and all the other states that have done this, and all the other plain-out strictly online colleges,” Brandon said.

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