The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday December 6th

MOOCs at UNC see large turnout

UNC lauds itself as equipping students with a world-class education, and now students across the globe are beginning to reap the benefits UNC professors have to offer.

The ever-changing environment of higher education has reached a new level in the form of massive open online courses, otherwise known at MOOCs.

MOOCs, which are free and accessible by anyone with internet access, are taught using pre-recorded lectures.

As of January 2014, UNC began offering several MOOCs of its own, including “What’s Your Big Idea?”, an entrepreneurship course co-taught by professor Buck Goldstein and former Chancellor Holden Thorp, who is now provost at Washington University in St. Louis.

Donald Hornstein, who teaches the course, “Introduction to Environmental Law and Policy,” said he has a wide variety of students enrolled in his class. His course is the first UNC MOOC to return for a second semester.

“I had people in the fall who would go online and talk to us from the Amazon or sub-Saharan Africa,” he said. “On the other hand, there were homeschooling teenagers from the U.S., and this gave them a community with which to engage.”

Goldstein said he is shocked by the popularity of his course — around 30,000 students signed up for the course, he said.

He said one of the most essential aspects of his MOOC is the forum section for students.

“There are 60 to 70 forums already, and they are country-specific,” Goldstein said. “There’s a huge amount of conversation and collaboration.”

Rob Schofield,, director of research and policy development for the left-leaning think tank N.C. Policy Watch, said though MOOCs have many positive aspects, there are drawbacks.

“This problem is especially worrisome in the current political environment in which far-right politicians are doing everything they can to defund public schools and universities and turn them into on-the-cheap education factories,” he said.

Ry Rivard, a reporter for Inside Higher Ed, said MOOCs are a feature of universities rather than a replacement for the classroom experience.

“One person once compared MOOCs to a crossword puzzle: a good way for intellectuals to entertain their brains,” Rivard said. “Crossword puzzles are a feature of newspapers; they were never going to replace newspapers.”

Lizzy Hazeltine, director of UNC’s entrepreneurship minor, said to her knowledge, UNC’s adoption of MOOCs did not come as a response to budget cuts.

“It was a proactive move to keep UNC on the cutting edge of higher education,” she said.

Hazeltine said because this is the first generation of MOOCs, the future depends on what the UNC community needs.

“The next generation is unclear, but we plan to use the feedback and experiences (from students and professors) to form what we do next.”

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