MOOC Legislation Withers and Dies as Higher Ed Hunts for Online Solutions

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The hottest idea in higher education this past year has been MOOCs—Massive Open Online Courses—which promise to bring broad, inexpensive access to the world’s top educators through innovative technology.

It’s an evolving concept in search of a business model that has been pushed hard by cash-strapped school administrators and governments while being derided by skeptical educators who see it as a cheap dumbing down of academia.

Governor Jerry Brown is a big fan and MOOCs have received support from the upper echelons at the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU) and California Community Colleges. But last week, the state Legislature backed off its headlong charge into unchartered territories when Senate Bill 520 was put on ice for at least a year by its chief supporter, Democratic State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

The legislation, which was heavily amended during its short six-month life, would have required schools to provide a platform that would make use using of a statewide mechanism to access online courses being marketed by outside groups, including for-profit companies. The state would dole out grant money to facilitate a California Virtual Campus stocked with these courses and require that students receive full academic credit upon successful completion.

According to an analysis by the Senate, the law would have “unknown, potentially substantial ongoing costs, depending on the amount of the incentive grants and the extent of their use.”

This does not mean that MOOCs are dead in California. State schools continue to develop their own approaches to utilizing online resources. CSU announced last week that it will give its students credit for taking online courses from CSU schools other than their own. That announcement came just days after San Jose State junked its two-semester experiment of offering online classes developed in conjunction with Udacity, a Silicon-Valley leader in the world of MOOCs.

A plan by UC to offer online courses at relatively modest prices to people outside the UC system, two years in the making, was swamped by the MOOC wave at the beginning of the year while administrators scrambled to adapt their proposals to the rapidly changing educational environment.

The New York Times called 2012 “The Year of the MOOC” as a movement fueled almost entirely with venture capital startup money took off. Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology signed up 370,000 students last fall through a partnership with the non-profit MOOC edX.

More than 1.7 million students signed up for classes with Coursera, and Udacity, a MOOC provider out of Stanford, debuted with an “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” that drew 160,000 students in more than 190 countries. Coursera works with more than 30 big-name schools, including Princeton, Columbia and Duke.

While schools salivate at the thought of reducing their huge financial commitments to higher education through private-public partnerships, varying approaches to structuring the offerings continue to be developed.

So far, the developments in California have far outpaced the creation of legislation to facilitate and regulate them.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

MOOC Bill Dead for Now (by Ry Rivard, Inside Higher Ed)

California Puts MOOC Bill on Ice (by Steve Kolowich, The Chronicle of Higher Education)

The MOOC Is Dead! Long Live Open Learning! (by Anya Kamenetz, DIY U)

San Jose State Gives Red-Hot Online MOOC Project a Rest (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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