California looking at MOOCs to solve the challenges of public education

By March 29, 2013
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Though controversial to some degree, MOOCs have emerged as a legitimate alternative to physical classes. California is considering using MOOCs to address some of public education's major problems: oversubscribed classes.


The emergence and sudden boom of MOOCs has been raising questions about the future of higher education, and more specifically whether online courses can replace physical classes. MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses - are online courses accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. While a majority of American university presidents do find value in online classes and believe them to be beneficial, whether and how to integrate them into the existing educational system is still being discussed – and controversial. The State of California, however, might soon be the first one to use MOOCs to fix over registration problems in state colleges. Darrell Steinberg, President pro tem of the California State Senate, introduced a bill this week, that would require state colleges to give academic credits to students who follow an online course if the class they choose is already full on campus.

Addressing the problem of oversubscribed classes

According to 20mm, who first announced the news, Senator Steinberg explained that the state’s 112 community colleges “each had an average of 7,000 enrolled students who were on waiting lists.” On top of this, only 16 percent of the 420,000-student, 23-campus California State University graduate within four years - partly because they can’t register in the classes they need. “We want to be the first state in the nation to make this promise: no college student in California will be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn’t get a seat in the course they needed,” said Darrell Steinberg. “That’s the motivation for this.” Students would only get credit for faculty-approved MOOCs, which will likely be free. This, of course, implies courses available through private vendors and startups like Udacity for instance.

Similar programs already launched

Earlier this year, the San Jose State University announced the launch of a pilot program in partnership with Udacity. The San Jose State Plus program will offer courses to SJSU and non-SJSU students, who in return can receive academic credits. The pilot program started with 2 math courses and one statistics course. Classes are taught by SJSU professors only. In a Whitepaper he published about the future of American higher education, SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi explains: “Educational institutions urgently need new approaches to teaching and assessing learning that are personalized, collaborative, engaging and that relate to real-world, 21st-century problems. The good news is that we have powerful tools to address the challenges we face.” A hope that might soon be answered if the proposed bill is approved by Californian Senate. 

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