The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced plans earlier this month to pilot an inverted admissions process, in which students who do well in a series of online courses and tests will have a better chance at earning admission to one of the school’s on-campus master’s programs in supply chain management.
Mitch Prinstein, a UNC psychology professor who teaches “Psychology of Popularity” through Coursera, a website that offers more than 1,400 MOOCs, said there are challenges in using measures of someone’s performance like MOOCs to try to anticipate that student’s readiness for certain programs.
“Frankly, admissions is a very challenging process,” Prinstein said. “You’re trying to predict someone’s future behavior based on measures of past behaviors that are not identical. And so undergraduate performance is not the same as what’s expected in graduate school, just as grade school performance is not what you’d expect at the college level.”
“So all these measures are imperfect,” he said. “I don’t think that the MOOC would solve any of these things, but one could argue that the information it provides would complement what we already know.”
According to MIT’s proposed plan, MOOCs taken before the student is accepted into the master’s program could be used to fulfill credits for classes that would otherwise be taken on-site in a traditional classroom, thus shortening the time the student spends earning the degree on campus.
Rob Bruce, the director of the Friday Center, which creates many of the University’s online classes, said it’s difficult to imagine a MOOC substituting for traditional classroom learning.
“The instructional design is we think about (MOOCs) as non-credit enrichment courses,” Bruce said. “The Friday Center also creates a lot of the online credit courses for the University, and it is a much more lengthy process that we use in our credit courses.”
He said it’s difficult to imagine a MOOC substituting for traditional classroom learning.
“It’s a little different because thousands and thousands of people in your online classroom doesn’t necessarily make for the best type of learning experience,” he said. “It really is more of an independent type of learning experience when it comes down to it. Independent learning — there are some strengths there, and people do that. But it’s a very different experience.”
Bill Ferris, a history professor and senior associate director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South teaches a class through Coursera called “The American South: Its Stories, Music, and Art.”
Ferris said MOOCs can and do play a major role in attracting students to universities, whether or not they’re a part of the admissions process. He said for people across the globe for whom education isn’t always guaranteed, MOOCs can provide insight into the world of higher education.
“Most of the world does not have the resources to do higher education in the sense that our students do here,” Ferris said. “But if they have access to a computer they can take these courses, and bright students will be inspired and hope to better their situations in life because of them.”