The co-founders of Math games for second grade have become oracles of higher education, spreading their doctrine of mass open distance courses at the World Economic Forum in Abu Dhabi, the Web Summit in Dublin and the Ideas Festival in Aspen. They describe how free online courses can open up access to higher education to anyone with an internet connection, free teachers from repeating the same lectures fed with monotonous jokes at the end, from semester to semester, and systematize data as computers record each answer, right or wrong, which can provide new insights into how students learn better.
Many educators predict that the bulk of MODX revenue will come from licensing remedial courses and introductory courses in subjects such as economics or statistics, two categories that attract hundreds of thousands of students annually. Even if less than 10 percent of whose vs whos students complete the courses they have signed up for, many experts believe that by combining MODX materials with support from faculty, the success rate can be increased.
The University of Pennsylvania has high hopes for a mass market for a single subject of high difficulty, Robert Grista, who will start this month and showcase his painted animation.
“What Rob did was figure out how to get PowerPoint to dance,” Rock said. “I think it’s going to be a revolution in teaching, because this course can now be taught with Coursera, and because familiar textbooks are outdated. That way, more institutions of higher learning that want to offer a more advanced program can now do it, and colleges with a two-year course (technical colleges) that don’t have good instructions for working with a more advanced program can get a license and use it in a mixed format with no habitual lecture delivery and substitute it for discussion and study of the concept in detail.
Rock, whose university has released 16 Coursera courses, said that about $50,000 was spent on the creation of each, with the main item of expenses for videotaping and paying for the work of assistants who monitor the forum. The University of Pennsylvania is only now beginning to think about how to make up for these expenses. Last fall, when completing a course on world music, for example, the university sent out a questionnaire to identify students’ interest in further courses, to find out what they would like to study and how much they are willing to pay for it.
Dr. Isekyll Emmanuel, a bioethicist at Penn University and former consultant on health issues in the Obama administration, teaches two Coursera courses: one on Obama’s health care provision law and the other on rationing medical resources.
He said he is not trying to create a course that can be offered again and again at no extra cost, but simply hopes to spread the understanding of important health issues. And instead of reusing his material from last year’s course on the new law, Dr. Emmanuel upgraded the course using not one but two cameramen who filmed his lectures at Penn.
But Dr. Emmanuel does not deny any commercial gain: he is considering developing MODXs that can be sold to those who want to get a medical ethics certificate.
Even Keller is not sure about the future of MODX and its company. “A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined that we would be where we are now,” she said. “Who knows where we’ll be in five years?