Monday, September 24, 2012

MOOCs on a Smaller Scale

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have become big news in higher education. Tens of thousands of students are taking advantage of the free, not-for-credit courses offered by some of the most prestigious universities in the nation.

Now, throw LOOCs and anti-MOOCs into the mix.

LOOCs, or little open online courses, are being tested at the University of Maine, Presque Isle. The pilot program, called OpenU, offers four online courses open to between two and seven online students for free, in addition to the regular paying students taking the class. The online students get no formal credit for completing the course, but, unlike MOOCs, can receive personalized responses from instructors on assignments and tests.

“Students are not paying, but they are getting the full experience,” said Presque Isle Provost Michael Sonntag in an article about the program in Inside Higher Education. “If they want to write every paper and take every test, our faculty members have agreed to give them feedback.”

There are even ways for students to receive some credit for the course. OpenU students can earn up to six credit hours through the UMPI prior-learning program if they enroll in the school, according to the university web site.

The UnderAcademy College appears at first to be a joke, with courses such as Grammar Porn and Underwater Procrastination and Advance Desublimation Techniques. However, it is also “offering serious content taught by professors at some well-known institutions,” according to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

UnderAcademy offers classes limited to 15 students. The goal is to deliver quality liberal arts and humanity classes by providing “students with the opportunity to focus on the process of learning and control the courses themselves rather than worry about the end product,” Talan Memmott, founder of UnderAcademy and lecturer of digital culture and communications at Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden, wrote in an e-mail to The Chronicle.

“Based on some spirit of humor that seemed to underlie everything, I assumed it was largely a joke,” said Mark C. Marino, associate professor of writing at the University of Southern California, who taught his “Grammar Porn” class last spring. “But Talan would say that this project is research into alternative pedagogical practices that are collaborative, less hierarchical, and take place online. That piqued my interest.”

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