Northwestern looks into providing massive open online courses

Cat Zakrzewski, Assistant Campus Editor

Although Northwestern has yet to join many of its peer institutions in formally partnering with popular massive open online course providers, some NU professors already have begun offering these courses.

MOOCs have rapidly increased in the past year with websites such as edX developed by prestigious schools including Harvard University. These sites provide online courses to thousands for no cost and have thus created a debate about the role technology will play in the future of education.

Although NU has yet to partner with other institutions or develop its own massive online open course, University spokesman Al Cubbage confirmed in an email Monday that the University is exploring MOOCs. University Provost Daniel Linzer was unavailable for comment.

Kellogg Prof. Gad Allon launched a MOOC last May called “Operations Management.” Before developing the MOOC, Allon said he discussed it with the dean of Kellogg, who was very supportive and said it would be an opportunity for experimentation.

Allon’s MOOC is relatively small, and he said about 6,000 students are taking it. Allon explained MOOCs provide a forum for University outreach, benefit students and can be used by prospective students trying to choose a school.

“If students are thinking about coming here … it can give them an idea of the type of material they teach,” Allon said.

Traditional universities have largely developed MOOCs, but many are concerned about what they could mean for the future of higher education. Allon said although massive open online courses are beneficial, classrooms will still be essential in the future if they adapt.

“If we keep our classroom the same way, classroom enrollment will go down,” Allon said.

Allon has adjusted his own classroom experience to accommodate for the advanced technology. He creates videos for students to watch prior to class each week and said he has set an expectation that students will watch and be prepared for class. The result, he explained, is a better class experience for everyone.

He said MOOCs will likely supplement the classroom experience because they cannot replace discussion and tutoring.

“We have to adjust our class experience,” Allon said. “There are many different things that can be done in a much better way in an in-class setting. It’s more personal.”

Allon said the future impact of MOOCs may not be apparent immediately as technology evolves. He explained there are many possibilities for future MOOCs, which might allow input from former student and alumni.

“There are clearly more opportunities going forward,” Allon said.