West Virginia University Provost Michele Wheatly is not given to hyperbole. So when she calls massive open online courses “the most exciting academic innovation in 30 years,” colleagues and campus communities should take notice.

“There is a lot of hype surrounding MOOCs,” Wheatly said, “both negative and positive. But what I’m thrilled about is that their advent has stimulated a serious discussion about the science of learning.”

When Wheatly organized a panel for chief academic officers from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities this summer on the MOOC phenomenon, she thought it was time to adopt a proactive stance and redirect the conversation toward strategies for online course development that would improve student learning.

“The MOOC conversation has really galvanized higher ed largely because it threatens the existing financial model upon which universities have been constructed, namely that the student pays to take a course and the university certifies student learning,” she said.

Massive open online courses are offered by companies, universities and media directly to the public without entry requirements. Wheatly characterized them as the higher education equivalent of public libraries, where anyone with access can browse and read books.

Traditional institutions are not currently conferring credit to students who complete MOOCs. Nonetheless, 2012 saw the founding of three national MOOC providers—edX, Coursera and Udacity—and the New York Times called 2012 ‘The Year of the MOOC.’

At the APLU panel last month, Wheatly and her co-presenters (Joe Glover, University of Florida; Karen Hanson, University of Minnesota; and Michael Tanner of APLU) urged rational, evidence-based use of online delivery to improve post-secondary education. One presenter intentionally delivered his entire presentation without using the term “MOOC,” effectively making the point about the need to see beyond the hype the term has generated.

Wheatly showcased the establishment of the office of academic innovation at WVU, which strategizes a variety of online educational tools and works with businesses developing intelligent systems for online curriculum delivery.

All four APLU panel speakers cautioned against taking extreme stances—either jumping on the MOOC bandwagon or refusing to enter the conversation at all.
Instead, they all agreed that MOOCs will become an important tool for higher education providers.

“The conversation about MOOCs has re-focused higher education on how technology can improve student learning and engage non-traditional learners,” Wheatly said. “Via well-constructed online delivery, students can interact with intelligent software, providing valuable data on how they learn and what concepts they struggle to understand. The possibilities are really astonishing.”

The provost is available to speak to media about the issue and can be reached via her assistant Ann Claycomb at 304-293-5701.



CONTACT: University Relations/News

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.