From the Print

Online model broadens access to AU courses

School these days doesn’t always involve a classroom of students or even a building to house them. But learning can still take place without place, over the cables and waves of the internet. That’s the concept Antioch University bet on this month when it contracted with online content provider Coursera to offer Antioch credit to students taking classes online.

Coursera is one of many businesses that have recently begun to offer university courses online to anyone in the world, for free. The courses, known as massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are created by faculty from dozens of universities such as Duke, Stanford, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Ohio State University, the Hebrew University of Jeruselum, the University of Melbourne and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Anyone can sign up for the rolling courses, each with their own quizzes and evaluation metrics, and participate at will in online discussion forums and simulated laboratories.
For any given course there can be as many as 150,000 people around the world who register, but typically a much lower percentage (below 10 percent) actively participate and finish the course. That, according to Antioch University Chancellor Felice Nudelman, is because there is little accountability for most MOOCs. But Antioch’s relationship with Coursera aims to alter that automated model.

While much of the coursework will be completed online, Antioch faculty will engage with students in choosing the right courses for their cognitive level, hold discussion groups, act as mentors and lead the evaluation process to award students up to three college credits for the work they do. While MOOCs are usually free, Coursera’s agreement with Antioch allows the courses to be offered for credit. And Antioch University plans to charge a fraction of the price for traditional credits, in the range of $90–$130 per credit. Traditional fees at Antioch University Midwest are between $500 and $600 per credit-hour.

“We’re thinking about how to couple innovation in education with best practices in education,” Nudelman said. “Faculty engagement is very important for student learning; a community learning together is very important for learning — we know this, and we’re incorporating it in this model.”

The university is launching its online program in two ways. Next fall, 2013, Antioch University Midwest will kick off an online BA completion program using a mix of MOOCs and courses by Antioch faculty. Antioch University Los Angeles has already launched its online program using two MOOCs from UPenn, “Modern and Contemporary American Poetry” and “Greek and Roman Mythology.”

And with experimentation in its bones, Antioch University is setting out in a new direction to offer the online Coursera program to high school students. Beginning this spring, high schoolers who are interested in an affordable way to earn college credit will be able to enroll in online courses from exploring quantum physics to the ancient Greeks. The university is actively working with high schools in the region to make the opportunity available, possibly to Yellow Springs High School students, Nudelman said.

“Penn’s course on modern poetry is taught by one of the leading faculty in the country, and as a high school student enrolled in a course like that while earning Antioch University credit, that’s opening up a whole world to them,” Nudelman said. “You might have a high school student in Ohio who won’t go to Harvard or Duke, but why shouldn’t they have the opportunity to study [coursework from] some of the most elite universities in the world?”

Coursera was founded earlier this year by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng. Other competing businesses also started this year, including Udacity and edX, which recently partnered with the University of Texas System to use MOOCs to allow more students to attend college for less money, according to a story in Inside Higher ­Education.
Antioch University has offered some of its own academic content online since 2003, and has since increased the number of online courses its five campuses offer to students each year from Midwest, L.A., Antioch New England, Antioch Seattle and Antioch Santa Barbara. But Antioch is looking at the new online model with Coursera as a way to increase enrollment at the university, which at Midwest has been largely flat over the past five years. Though after welcoming new Midwest President Ellen Hall over the summer, the local campus saw an uptick of about 125 new students. Midwest has also hired an executive director of enrollment management, and Antioch University is bringing on a vice-chancellor to manage enrollment for the five-campus system.

“Enrollment has been a mix, but we’re getting stable and now looking toward a period of growth,” Nudelman said. “The goal is to keep growing.”

A recent article in the MIT Technology Review entitled “The Crisis in Higher Education” by Nicholas Carr, compared the new online movement to the short-lived enthusiasm for distance learning enabled by the modern postal system 100 years ago. Skeptics say online education can never replicate the real-time, in-person exchange that occurs in the traditional classroom between teachers, students and their peers. But enthusiasts say that “online instruction will change the nature of teaching on campus, making it more engaging and efficient.”

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