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New frontier for scaling up online classes: credit

November 19, 2012 • Business


In this photo taken Nov. 15, 2012, Peter Struck, Associate Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania records a lecture by Struck on Greek Mythology in Philadelphia. In 15 years of teaching, Struck has guided perhaps a few hundred students annually in his classes on Greek and Roman mythology through the works of Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus and others — “the oldest strands of our cultural DNA.” But if you gathered all of those tuition-paying, in-person students together, the group would pale in size compared with the 54,000 from around the world who, this fall alone, are taking his class online for free — a “Massive Open Online Course,” or MOOC, offered through a company called Coursera. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

In 15 years of teaching, University of Pennsylvania classicist Peter Struck has guided perhaps a few hundred students annually in his classes on Greek and Roman mythology through the works of Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus and others — “the oldest strands of our cultural DNA.”

But if you gathered all of those tuition-paying, in-person students together, the group would pale in size compared with the 54,000 from around the world who, this fall alone, are taking his class online for free — a “Massive Open Online Course,” or MOOC, offered through a company called Coursera.

Reaching that broader audience of eager learners — seeing students in Brazil and Thailand wrestle online with texts dating back millennia — is thrilling. But he’s not prepared to say they’re getting the same educational experience.

“Where you have a back-and-forth, interrogating each other ideas, finding shades of gray in each other’s ideas, I don’t know how much of that you can do in a MOOC,” he said. “I can measure some things students are getting out of this course, but it’s nowhere near what I can do even when I teach 300 here at Penn.”

A year ago, hardly anybody knew the term MOOC. But the Internet-based courses offered by elite universities through Coursera, by a consortium led by Harvard and MIT called edX, and by others, are proving wildly popular, with some classes attracting hundreds of thousands of students. In a field known for glacial change, MOOCs have landed like a meteorite in Login to read more

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