Archive for Saturday, February 2, 2013

Simons’ Saturday Column: KU can’t afford to fall behind online course trends

February 2, 2013


Complacency is one of the most deadly and damaging afflictions, whether it involves the behavior of an individual, a business organization or even a university.

It was disappointing to read of the reaction of several Kansas University faculty members or administrators relative to whether KU soon may become more engaged or participate in the massive open online course, or MOOC, program that is spreading across the country and being used by hundreds of thousands of students.

The KU position, according to those questioned a few days ago, is “wait and see.” In fact, at this time, KU has no plans to participate in the program. Universities such as Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, California-Berkeley and Princeton have jumped on the MOOC program, but KU has no plans to join at this time.

It’s interesting that Fort Hays State University, under the visionary leadership of President Ed Hammond, is investigating MOOCs and working on a plan by which it might be able to offer academic credit to those participating in a MOOC program from one of the elite schools.

KU should be on the forefront of new academic programs, not lagging behind. Maybe MOOCs will turn out to be a flop, but shouldn’t the response of KU officials to the question of whether they plan to become engaged in the program be something like, “It’s an interesting concept. Of course we are looking at it to see whether this is something we should embrace,” rather than offering reasons it doesn’t measure up in their eyes or that they will wait and see if it merits their attention later.

At a time when KU officials are justifiably pleased with recent enrollment numbers, wouldn’t it seem wise to send the message to students and their parents that KU intends to be on the cutting edge of providing the best possible educational opportunities?

Courses taught by some of this nation’s most outstanding scholars should be of interest to the type of students KU is trying to attract. Not long ago, KU officials made a major and successful effort to elevate academic requirements for those seeking admission to KU.

MOOCs are free and available to anyone. The current knock on the courses is that there is no way, at the present time, to receive academic credit for them. Nevertheless, the program is growing, and students and non-students are jumping at the opportunity to participate in lectures by faculty at some of this nation’s outstanding universities.

Not long ago, a distinguished KU faculty member said KU was in serious danger of being outdated and bypassed by the MOOC schools. He said KU should be giving much more attention to building the excellence of its graduate programs and less emphasis on the undergraduate or freshman/sophomore levels. He suggested MOOCs are right down the alley for undergraduate programs, and that KU and other similar schools should be building the excellence of their graduate programs.

If there is some way to figure out how to give academic credit for MOOCs, this would be a tremendously damaging blow to the undergraduate numbers at a school like KU. Aside from the enjoyment of being an undergraduate college student — football games, fraternity and sorority party life, the “university experience,” getting away from home and making new friends — is there any reason a talented young man or woman intent on obtaining an excellent college education wouldn’t choose to sign up for a number of MOOCs being taught by some of the nation’s most outstanding schools?

What would this do to undergraduate numbers at KU? How would it affect student housing needs, undergraduate classrooms and faculty numbers?

As noted above, Fort Hays officials have been working on this project for some time. They have not adopted the “wait and see” approach and they are working with some of the prestigious universities engaged with MOOCs to see whether there is a way to forge an arrangement whereby they could offer academic credit for MOOCs.

Has the Kansas Board of Regents taken a position on MOOCs or do they leave this in the hands of the chancellor and presidents? Who decides whether to have state universities be in the forefront or lagging behind and trying to play catch up?

Perhaps some on Mount Oread see no reason to be overly concerned about MOOCs, but there are distinguished professors who are concerned, deeply concerned.

For years, KU was recognized as a leader, a true leader, an innovator whose leaders sought ways to elevate the school to higher and more lofty academic and research goals.

Seldom did they adopt a wait-and-see attitude. KU was a school other schools wanted to emulate; it was a leader.

MOOCs may turn out to be merely a fad, but what if they aren’t and KU has not planned for the likely repercussions?


Lawrence Morgan 5 years, 4 months ago

I have been commenting in my blogs on the Journal-World about this trend for some time. But there has been no response from KU, except wait and see, and especially no response from the Chancellor, who should be on top of these things.

Thank you, Dolph C. Simons, Jr., for this outstanding editorial.

By the way, have readers seen "My Valuable, Cheap College Degree" in tomorrow's NY Times? It is located at:

In that respect, I will be commenting in detail in the coming weeks about Lawrence's need for innovation, entrepreneurial leadership in the community and at KU, and the possibility of online classes, as well as much more.

Here are a few of the blogs that I have written in the past year, which pertain to the above subject.

In this light, there is a serious problem with Reader's Blogs on the Journal-World. I have written but not received an adequate response, except in the most general terms, about why Reader's Blogs have been taken not only off the front page of the web site, but the fact that there is not even an easy web location to get to them, either.

In many ways, the Journal-World began citizenship journalism in Kansas, but now that citizenship journalism is almost gone. It has been completely hidden from view for most Journal-World readers, unlike other Kansas papers where readers' blogs are still featured. These blogs often have articles that are not otherwise covered in the paper. They would be valuable if they could be seen. Often they offer a different and important point of view on both local and worldwide affairs.

Reader's Blogs used to be on the front page, where everyone could see them. Now, they are impossible to find. A person who does not have a lot of experience with the computer will never locate them. Could this problem be solved, so that readers of the Journal-World, including new readers, can locate these writers?

And again, thanks for this great editorial. I am a KU graduate and I'm very concerned about the future of KU at the present time.

Jack Martin 5 years, 4 months ago

Here's some of what Senior Vice Provost Sara Rosen said in the article this column is ostensibly based on:

"Rosen said a major lesson for her was the importance of expanding access to higher education, specifically, access for groups beyond 18-year-olds coming out of high school.

“I think a lot of us are watching it carefully, thinking about how we can create different programs that will allow different groups of potential students to enter into higher education,” Rosen said."

This sounds remarkably like what Mr. Simons says KU should be doing...except for where he says we should forget about educating undergraduates. One of KU’s top priorities is having more students earn their degrees, something that MOOCs are as of yet unable to address.

As part of the Bold Aspirations strategic plan, KU is actively working to expand its online offerings in terms of both classes and degree programs, as well as to use technology to "flip" the classroom and make it more interactive. Much of this was discussed in the article.

More information on support for KU faculty creating online and hybrid courses:

oakfarm 5 years, 4 months ago

And Yale just announced they have a $40 million operating budget DEFICIT this year. To paraphrase a wag, "They're too broke to be this slow."

chootspa 5 years, 4 months ago

MOOCs are only free for the students. The university still has to supply servers, technology, support, and instructor time.

JackMcKee 5 years, 4 months ago

When KU wants Dolph's opinion they'll ask for it.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 4 months ago

Mr. Simons is correct in that if MOOCs become prevalent and taken for credit, the traditional higher education structure and infrastructure will change dramatically. This could be good or bad, but it would certainly be upheaval.

Mr. Simons cites "Universities such as Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, California-Berkeley and Princeton have jumped on the MOOC program,..."

Yes, true. These are some of the best universities in the world and are in the safest position to buffer against upheaval. Attendance at these universities will always be valuable and sought after. Not so much for schools like KU, whose very existence might well be in jeopardy if MOOCs become the new norm for college credit.

I agree that KU must pursue online options, and indeed they are. They must do so, however, with the knowledge that this might very well be undermining their very existence as a brick and mortar university.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 4 months ago

Another question we must ask: why would someone take a MOOC from KU when they can be taken from "Universities such as Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, California-Berkeley and Princeton..."?

chootspa 5 years, 4 months ago

Why sink tons of money into a "trend?" They can and should be involved in distance learning, but the idea of opening up the class to offer all the content for free is very much a trend and may not linger.

arylwren 5 years, 4 months ago

Perhaps KU could offer credit for students who take MOOCs from other universities. There overhead would be practically non-existent.

Basically they could offer KU students who are enrolled at least part-time (maybe full-time) credit for a comparable course if the exams are proctored (for a fee, of course). Most MOOC courses are intro-level courses. Many KU introductory courses are very similar to MOOCs anyway since they don't account for attendance and most of the interaction is with TAs and other students. (A plus to the student is that you don't actually have to sit next to said-students!)

So KU can charge a per exam proctor fee which covers the cost of a TA sitting in a room for 4 hours. And then, of course, there would be a processing fee, a service fee, a tech-usage fee, a transcript updating fee, etc. They could actually make a killing on these!!!

(Sorry LJWorld/Chrome don't let me post unless it's a reply usually. Weird.)

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