Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Students weigh in on value of massive open online classes

By Sam Hayes

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Hundreds of thousands of people across the world have begun to take college classes from some of the most prestigious institutions in the United States for free.

These students are taking massive open online classes (MOOC) offered by several online education companies, such as Coursera and edX.

Coursera is a for-profit company founded by Stanford University computer science professors. EdX is a nonprofit company run cooperatively by Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California Berkley.

Students can sign up for a specific number of online courses on a range of subjects, which will be taught by professors at these institutions.

Many MOOC classes require students to watch video lectures or read materials provided to them online. Then, work completed by the students is graded either by other students or machine. The grading system requires little work from professors and allows for an almost limitless class size, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

At the completion of the course, students who have achieved high enough marks become eligible to receive a certificate of course completion.

While it is free to study, some MOOCs, such as Coursera, charge students who want to receive a certificate of completion.  Currently, students don’t have to pay for a certificate from edX, but there are plans to change that in the future, according to its website.

College credit cannot be received for taking these courses and the certificate is not accepted as transfer credit either.

Despite students’ inability to receive credit for MOOC classes, the courses have been increasing in popularity. Coursera’s student population surpassed 1 million last month, the Chronicle reported.

The movement comes years after M.I.T.’s October 2002 launch of OpenCourseWare, where the institution gave students access to free notes and coursework online.

The long-term effects of MOOCs are not yet known, but some colleges and college students are uneasy with the possible impact they could have on higher education and the worth of their degrees.

Danny Weng, a senior Management Information Systems major at UMass, said he thinks MOOCs are an “awesome” idea and wishes he could fit one into his busy schedule.

“I can’t take one at the same time as school,” he said. “It’s just too much work.”

Weng said he thinks MOOCs can help students learn about topics outside of their fields of study.

But he also said he cannot see the free education system promoted by MOOCs replacing the traditional University system.

“The University is a business,” Weng said. “There are not going to be free credits (offered at UMass) anytime soon.”

Erika Jurlina, a junior astronomy major, agreed.

“No one is going to give you credits for free,” she said.

“I wouldn’t spend the time (to take an MOOC) unless I got credit,” Jurlina added.

She also said she believes MOOCs may cause people to overestimate their knowledge on a subject.

“People will think they know more about a subject than they really do,” she said.

Other students, such as junior English major Ben Decatur, anticipate UMass will soon join in with the growing number of schools participating in the MOOC system.

At UMass, many classes already have online components and some, such as a number of Professor Sut Jhally’s popular communications courses, even have video lectures.

Decatur said he prefers the type of human interaction in-person classes offer students, particularly the help and clarification of teaching assistants and professors.

Thirty-year-old Greenfield Community College transfer student and sociology major Stephanie Staples had never heard of MOOCs, but said she liked the concept.

“It would be good for everyone, including UMass students,” she said. “[MOOCs] are like electives, I can study things that are not pertinent to my degree, but that I think warrant scholarship.”

Staples also said she likes the idea that MOOCs can change social structure by allowing financially disadvantaged students access to Harvard-level courses.

Currently, the largest MOOCs are edX, Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy and Udemy, according to the Chronicle.

Sam Hayes can be reached at [email protected]



9 Responses to “Students weigh in on value of massive open online classes”

  1. Mary Madsen on September 27th, 2012 5:42 pm

    I think MOOCs are are great idea, but should be considered supplemental education to getting an online degree through an accredited college or university.


  2. Sean on September 28th, 2012 6:22 pm

    (Disclosure: I work for the Saylor Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works with professors to provide free college-level online courses.)

    Free credits may not be in the offing, but inexpensive credits almost certainly will be! And fortunately, the MOOC vs. traditional institution situation needn’t be a zero-sum game: colleges can seek higher enrollments (increasing revenue) while cutting costs and putting funds into real teacher-student interaction; students can save money by earning transferring in some inexpensive credits and focus on taking the courses they love. Far from imperiling the value of a student’s degree or threatening the bottom line of traditional institutions, open courses can give back to both! We at the Saylor Foundation are working hard to make these new education trends an “everybody wins” opportunity.

    Thanks for the article!


  3. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN on September 29th, 2012 12:10 pm

    University of Massachusetts UMASS is one of the early pioneers of ONLINE programs with a degree.

    I remember they had a profit of $ 25 million 5-6 years ago from their ONLINE Programs and they were very proud . Me too . Not so many people believed in online on those days .

    I have always said Cost of ONLINE is 1/10 of the oncampus . But I said we have improve the number of students , many many . To reach a small fee of $ 25 or so per course a school would need 10,000 students per semester for at least 10 semesters continuously . That makes 100,000 students in 5 years .

    I thought of one online course is followed by all colleges in the USA in order to increase number of students attending one course . Nobody accepted .

    Then MIT have found of the solution for big numbers . Be global. Therefore MIT started in 2001 Open Courseware Program in the world . It was a fantastic promotion. Now 100,000,000 people in the world follow MIT OCW programs .
    Therefore MIT started MITx program for 100,000 – 1,000,000 people in mind since with these numbers cost would be nill per students less than $ 1 per course per person .

    Seeing the opportunity Harvard joined the club even claiming together 1 billion students in the world

    The expensive component of the ONLINE is exams and certification . Therefore MIT declared MITx will charge a small fee for exams and certification. May be $ 10-15 per course per person . Still they did not declare that small fee. But they will . Therefore I say MITx is not FREE . It is probably cost + fee basis .

    Since it is cost + fee MITx + Harvardx project is sustainable, because it is self financing .

    Most important they can attract those 100,000 even much more than that millions students around the world .
    Therefore MITx + Harvardx is not any MOOC as many says .

    MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT IS SCALE more than million .
    MIT and Harvard can achieve that target . If MIT+Harvard believe 1 BILLION I am sure they can achieve. 1 million which is required for dependeble operation .

    Plus they will provide degrees as well when the right time comes . They have a fantastic strategy .

    They do not say but I can say they will replace the classical colleges with degrees. But stop. Not all colleges . Not everybody in the world is smart enough to attend MITx Harvardx . MITx Harvardx will not sacrify from their quality therefore only those very smart fellows of the world can get a degree from MITx and Harvardx .

    Here comes UMASS .
    UMASS has already many online courses developed and ongoing .
    Also they award ONLINE degrees .

    That means no new course development investment is needed.
    Only they should improve the content of their online course somehow .

    If UMASS predicts they can attract only 10,000 students per semester then they can charge $ 20-25 per course . ( Their cost being less than $ 20 in case of 10,000 per semester )
    If it can attract only 5,000 per semester then just increase the fee to $ 50-60 per course. For 2,500 students ; some ineffciency ; then fee may go up to $ 100-150 per course per person still not bad .

    If UMASS attracts more than 10,000 per semester then every increase has extra profits.

    UMASS should be afraid of MITx . Potential customers in the world is much more for UMASS than MITx . There are more smart people in the world than there is VERY smart people . Think about it . UMASS has more potential customers in the world than MITx has .

    But we have to make UMASS known by the whole world . What the strategy would be for that , I do not know .


    I do not call it MOOC . MOOC is to me an inferior adjective .

    UMASS will be very very profitable and it will be revolution in the USA as well as in the world .

    Number of oncampus students of UMASS may decline , But please do not worry about it. You will make much more from ONLINE if you attract 1,000,000 per year.


  4. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN on September 29th, 2012 12:16 pm


    UMASS should NOT be afraid of MITx …


  5. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN on September 29th, 2012 4:13 pm

    Another revolutionary opportunity for UMASS.
    UMASS should include some courses from MITx in their degree programs so that UMASS would have a saving of 10 % for each course they accept from MITX as transfer credit .
    Today MITx and Harvardx do not have many courses affored yet. In the near future UMASS even can make savings up to 50 % if UMASS transfers 5 courses per year per student from MITx Harvardx Berkeleyx. This even increase the value and quality of UMASS. To cooperate with MIT and Harvard is another credit for students of UMASS . SHARING IS BEAUTIFUL .

    I am very glad to get the comments of the students of UMASS
    it is more than useful . They are the ones who can distinguish online and good onlines from commercial onlines.

    Please discuss my proposal above too . I love to get your reaction .


  6. Regarder Planes en ligne gartuit on September 16th, 2013 10:30 pm

    That would have sucked for me as I don’t learn well from theory. I need to do physically do it.


  7. on September 21st, 2013 6:14 am

    I will surly bring this article and blog to their attention as three of my grand daughters are very young yet and maybe it will be of some help to them as they grow into young women.


  8. kellianne photographer on September 21st, 2013 6:53 am

    Wow. Slow Snow must be part of the Vander Plaats/King anti-freedom crowd up in that quarter of the state.


  9. living in thailand on September 23rd, 2013 4:28 am

    I also realized my desire for solitude would soon be sated and possibly devolve into an uncomfortable loneliness.


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