MO-OCalypse? MOOC-apocalypse? (Oops, apocalypse is one of those words that, if you look too closely, always appears wrongly spelled.)
A UBC colleague who's also going to be producing a Coursera course got me thinking about the future of the university.
He starts with two reasonable assumptions: First, the diversity and quality of Coursera-like courses is going to increase rapidly over the next few years. Second, universities/faculty members/students are discovering that face-to-face lecturing in large classes is not the best use of student or faculty time and effort, and they will move toward 'flipped' classes where students use class videos and other online resources to learn the course content and then use classroom time for problem solving and interactive learning.
Creating the online resources for a flipped course is a big investment of technical resources and instructor time. So, for both instructors and administrators, it will make sense to instead use the resources of any appropriate Coursera courses. Contemplating this for very long leads one to various philosophical considerations, such as "Since Coursera courses are free, why would students pay to go to university?" and then "Yikes, what will become of my job??!!!"
For a university education to be perceived as worth the tuition, it won't be enough to supplement the free Coursera material with scheduled classroom peer-teaching experiences and a tutorial taught by a graduate student. The university needs to develop integrated programs with hands-on and face-to-face experiences that are seen as worth the cost.
Unfortunately, nobody knows enough about how learning works to do a credible job of this. So if the university is to avoid selling programs with little demonstrated value, it needs to gather the information that will let it create genuine value.
Ironically, the best way to prepare for this MOOC-opalypse may be to become part of the problem by teaching a MOOC. In principle, one advantage a university gains by offering Coursera courses or other MOOCs is that the enormous numbers of students and the online record-keeping make it possible to collect unprecedented amounts of data about student learning. But in practice most of the data will be worthless unless we carefully design our courses as learning experiments. That sentence makes it sound like designing a course to be a learning experiment is something I know how to do. It's not. And I'm not likely to have the time to do this even if I had the expertise.
On the other hand, my course is best-positioned to become an experiment, since it's the least developed of the three UBC Coursera offerings. UBC has offered Climate Literacy as a fully online Continuing Studies course (non-credit) for several years, and I think Introduction to Systematic Program Design is going to be an online version of CPSC 110. Although Useful Genetics will build on what I've taught in BIOL 234 - Fundamentals of Genetics, it's basically a new course. But if we're going to use Useful Genetics as an experiment in online learning we need to start now, because it will be too late once I've developed all the components.
So I'm emailing UBC's Centre for Teaching and Learning Technology (CTLT) to ask if they have a support person assigned to work on course-evaluation development for the Coursera courses.
Later: CTLT responded that this will be discussed at a meeting they're organizing with the Coursera instructors. I think this means "Not yet, but maybe..."