Ten major universities recently joined the MOOC website Coursera and made select courses widely available online for all to access for free.

A MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) lets anyone who has an internet connection access large interactive classes. MOOC classes often consist of asynchronous materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, as well as online forums and office hours to build communities.

Since its inception in 2008, the MOOC concept of education continues to grow in popularity with millions signed up for classes on Coursera, Udacity, and edX. According to Adena Schutzberg, executive editor of Directions Magazine, MOOCs generally have these key properties:

  • open to all
  • free
  • online
  • students interact online
  • mostly asynchronous (no required meeting time)
  • no, some or formal credit may be available to document completion or achievement

Image via socialmeteor.com

People take MOOCs for a variety of reasons, including their interest in a topic, to try something new, and/or professional development.  The courses are mostly taught by professors from respected universities, therefore have legitimacy as educational resources.

I decided to take Internet History, Technology, and Security by Charles Severance on Coursera because I was genuinely interested in the topic and the MOOC format provided a free means of continuing my professional development after graduate school.

MOOCs are viewed as part of the larger disruptive innovation taking place in higher education because of technology. The MOOC format is praised for its potential to democratize higher education because learning is accessible to anyone with a computer and an internet connection.   Additionally, classes are free, and to some extent, they provide a disruptive learning alternative to the daunting and rising cost of higher education. (It is key to remember MOOCs often do not provide a degree, credit or certificate from the university, though.)

MOOCs and their potential as an innovative disruptive technology continue to cause a stir within institutions of higher education. Both the New York Times and the Huffington Post report mixed reactions from faculty and higher ed officials to the rapid rise of the MOOC. While many in higher ed are supportive, there are others who are extremely skeptical.

Just this month, the Philosophy Department at San Jose State University sent an open letter criticizing their institution’s participation in MOOCs. According to the New York Times, the professors asserted:

 “Such courses, designed by elite universities and widely licensed by others, would compromise the quality of education, stifle diverse viewpoints and lead to the dismantling of public universities.”

The provosts of several of America’s top research universities released a paper arguing that it is essential that they (meaning higher education institutions) drive online educational efforts and future MOOC expansion and collaboration, rather than corporate entrepreneurs and investors doing so. The paper outlined very important considerations and concerns for this new technological method of teaching, and aptly pointed out that accessibility does not automatically equate to educational opportunity.

Regardless, MOOCs provide great opportunities for current MLIS (Master’s in Library and Information Science) students and graduates to supplement their educations. The MLIS provides a strong basis for a career in libraries,  but there is a limit to how much professors can teach in a two-year program. MOOCs provide the opportunity to learn new topics for those who have graduated, an opportunity to check out classes  for those considering getting an MLIS, and a chance to learn additional tech skills before graduation for current students.

MIT Press

MIT Press

I suggest considering the following MOOC courses:

Syracuse University, New Librarianship

(Editor’s Note: This MOOC is now closed, but you might be interested in our iSchool Webinars, featuring free sessions from iSchool faculty and alumni).

The course is taught by Dr. R. David Lankes and is specifically about libraries! I have taken Dr. Lankes’ courses and have read his book, The Atlas of New Librarianship. He is a great and knowledgeable professor and the course will teach innovative and exciting ideas for libraries. For those considering obtaining an MLIS degree, this is a great course to take and a way to “dip your toe into the pool” before jumping in. The course could also be great for those who have earned their degree and who want to to learn about the latest innovative ideas and trends in libraries.

Coursera, Information, Tech and Design Classes

By far, Coursera offers the most course options of all the MOOC websites I visited. In the information technology area, this MOOC website offers 32 classes in that category. Information Tech skills are always a plus for librarians and digital librarians may find classes on networks to metadata especially interesting. For school librarians, classes are offered in emerging trends and technologies in virtual K-12 classrooms.

Udacity, Computer Science Classes

While not as diverse in the class offerings as Coursera, the MOOC website Udacity offers classes in computer science and programming. For those looking to be more tech and web savvy or who are taking digital libraries/tech specialization, the introduction classes in programming, computer science, web programming and java can be very helpful. Udacity allows students to take courses at their own pace without completion deadlines.

Do you have a MOOC experience you would like to share?  Please post about it in the comments below.