As more and more universities dive into the marketplace for massive open online courses, Yale remains tepid in its embrace of the medium.
Known as MOOCs, these courses have exploded in popularity in recent years, with institutions around the country from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the U.S. State Department taking a role in providing educational content to well over 5 million viewers internationally. But despite the University’s role as one of the initial leaders in providing free content to a global audience — Open Yale Courses, launched in 2007, are regarded as a predecessor to MOOCs — Yale has taken a step back from the market for online courses.
“A quality education represents a process of learning how to think, rather than the delivery of packets of information,” University President Peter Salovey said. “I’m as excited about online technologies as anyone else, but I want to focus on how to use them to engage students with faculty in a process of teaching and learning far more than I’m interested in simply conveying packets of information and giving people merit badges for having viewed them.”
In January, Yale will begin offering four courses on Coursera, the largest platform for MOOCs, in addition to posting separate content on Open Yale Courses. Open Yale Courses differ from MOOCs because they are filmed classes that do not involve assessments or certificates, while MOOCS are created specifically to train or engage viewers.
Yale’s approach stands in contrast to that of its peer institutions — though this is also the first year that Yale has been on a MOOC platform, having announced its partnership with Coursera last year. Harvard currently lists 17 courses on EdX, a joint venture between Harvard, MIT and a series of other schools. Stanford lists 25 classes on Coursera, while the University of Pennsylvania offers 27.
But new methods of content delivery for online courses are attempting to move beyond the one-way conveyance to which Salovey referred. Earlier this month, Coursera announced a partnership with the U.S. State Department to create “learning hubs,” located across the globe, that provide internet access for free courses. Whether the hubs will alter Yale’s long-term calculations around the online courses, though, remains to be seen.
The hubs are intended to expand the reach of MOOCs to areas with internet connectivity issues or where residents do not commonly own personal computers, while also improving educational outcomes by providing offline instruction to complement online content.
At the hubs, individuals will also have the ability to participate in in-person discussion sessions with as few as 15 people, for which there will be a teacher or facilitator, Coursera President Lila Ibrahim told the New York Times.
In the collaboration, the State Department is not developing content, but instead facilitating access to it.
“The Department of State is facilitating these in-person physical experiences that [are] bringing social context to the traditional online environment,” said Yin Liu, head of growth and international strategy for Coursera.
The development of the hubs is part of the State Department’s so-called MOOC Camps Initiative, which provides MOOC viewing at American embassies in over 40 countries. In about half of the instances, the State Department facilitates MOOC viewership through the Coursera platform. In others, though, platforms such as Open Yale Courses and the Harvard-MIT collaboration EdX are used.
In the new partnership, Coursera will provide training materials to facilitators, while also aiding the State Department in analyzing data to better understand learning outcomes from the courses.
According to Coursera, the hubs have the possibility to vastly improve learning outcomes. In a pilot program in Bolivia, South Korea and Indonesia, completion rates for the courses jumped from 10 percent to 40 percent with the introduction of in-person instruction.
Still, Yale faculty engaged in the discussion around online education suggested that the University is unlikely to expand far beyond Open Yale Courses in the near future, saying that the University plans to observe developments in the market in order to improve the success of its own courses.
“If Yale has been ostensibly conservative in this regard, it’s because we’re watching very carefully what is developing,” said Craig Wright, who leads the Provost’s Online Education Standing Committee. “We think we have a better idea now how this should play.”
According to Wright, approximately five percent of the University’s online content, excluding Open Yale Courses are MOOCs. Most of the online content provided by the University has been consumed within the Yale community.
Lucas Swineford, executive director of the Office of Digital Dissemination and Online Education, pointed to the Yale Summer Online Program, which offered 13 courses this year, as a successful example of online education within the Yale community. In the program, participants watched lectures on their own time, then came together for an online discussion section on a weekly basis.
Salovey also said the summer program, as well as a small online certificate-granting program in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, provided examples of successful online expansion. He added that in the future, he expects partnerships with other universities — in particular, the International Alliance of Research Universities — to prove fruitful. In the realm of open courses, though, Salovey said he does not see broad expansion beyond Open Yale Courses in the near future.
“In terms of Yale’s presence online off campus, I think our future is going to be in working in specialized networks with particular other institutions that make good collaborative partners for us, rather than an emphasis on massive, or even necessarily open,” Salovey said.
There are currently 42 courses currently listed on Open Yale Courses.