Do the maths – MOOCs break the mould
BY:JILL ROWBOTHAM From: The Australian February 20, 2013 12:00AM
The Algebra of Everything, a video-clip series by La Trobe University’s Marcel Jackson aimed at general viewers, was No 1 on iTunes U in Australia last week.
THE accelerating evolution of online teaching through massive open online courses and other variations offers myriad possibilities the Australian sector can seize, especially given its reputation as a pioneer in international education. That’s the conclusion of a new Austrade report, More than MOOCs.
“We have looked through the prism of international demand for Australian education,” senior trade and investment commissioner in the Washington office Kelly Ralston said.
There were “a plethora of new opportunities (for institutions), whether to broaden their student base, to raise their profiles internationally or to continue enhancing the quality of the student experience.”
“It’s a fast-moving landscape and it’s up to each institution to assess how the new technologies and tools fit within their organisational strategy,” she said. “Also Australia has a long tradition of online and distance education, we are a recognised pioneer in international education.” These experiences would stand Australia in good stead. “It doesn’t have to be a North American conversation,” Ms Ralston said.
MOOCs knocking at the foundations
The Austrade analysis was prompted by questions from vice-chancellors and institutions last year as US university-backed platforms such as Coursera, edX and Udacity started making headlines across the world.
The Austrade market research is on its way to being required reading in the sector. “It is the best summary of where MOOCs stand worldwide at the moment, what developments (there) are and what they offer,” University of Adelaide vice-chancellor Warren Bebbington said, although he confirmed his institution was unlikely to take that route.
Another early reader and sector expert, Macquarie E-Learning Centre of Excellence director James Dalziel, warned MOOCs were “great for students and independent learners, but for institutions they could be quite negative in financial terms”.
“There is a strong economic incentive for students to do a MOOC and get the credit for the course towards their university degrees, rather than pay full price for a university course in its place,” Professor Dalziel said.
Professor Bebbington said MOOCs had “forced universities to focus much more on teaching and learning, and also to think about openness”.
“A great many students around the world use the material to sample what enrolment in their courses would be like, and then the applications go up.”
The University of Melbourne signed on with Coursera last year; the University of New England launches its UNE Open initiative today, in which students can study free courses and take a paid exam to get cut-price credit towards a degree.
The University of Western Australia is offering MOOCs this semester, after adapting Stanford University’s Class2Go platform for iPhones and iPads.
MOOCs and other online courses give universities a showcase for their top academic talent: those who not only know their stuff but can communicate it.
There are plenty of likely contenders, such as La Trobe University algebraist and ARC Future Fellow Marcel Jackson, who knows how to hit the spot with online consumers. His series The Algebra of Everything, aimed at general viewers,was No 1 on iTunes U in Australia last week and is No 4 in the US.
“When someone asks me what I do, it is a tough sell to have to reply algebra,” Dr Jackson said. “For a lot of people, the word is synonymous with where mathematics all went rotten.”
University of Melbourne: MOOCS/Coursera
UWA: Stanford’s Class2Go software to offer courses
University of Southern Queensland: OERUniversity (virtual consortium)
Macquarie University: Learning Activity Management Systems already being used in China and Japan
Smart Sparrow: UNSW spin-off, uses Adaptive eLearning Platform in science and medical education
University of New England: UNE Open initiative
Deakin University: Set to launch a MOOC next month
UNSW: Introductory computing course via its OpenLearning platform