Although these points were first pressed home during a conversation with Burke Smith from StraighterLine in 2009, they were somewhat catalyzed during at the 2010 NUTN (National University Technology Network) Summit in Colorado Springs. During a break between sessions, I asked Chris Geith from Michigan State University if she thought that we provided any unique value to students who choose to study with us online. I was asking if she thought that we provided anything of value to compensate for our relatively high prices and tendency toward inflexibility with students.
To shorten the story, this exchange lead to asking similar questions to a lot of folks, and eventually to formal presentations at the 2012 Sloan-C annual meeting (with Phil DiSalvio, Christine Geith, and Wayne Smutz) and the 2012 NUTN Summit (with Christine Geith). At NUTN a small group met and discussed the question,
"Just what is it that a research extensive university brings to online learning that is unique, valuable to students, and that other types of institutions are not well equipped to provide?"Christine and I were joined by colleagues from
- Colorado State University
- Cornell University
- Fort Hays State University
- Michigan State University
- Penn State University
- Virginia Tech University
This is the first time that I thought about it this way. Up to this point I was strongly oriented to thinking that the unique value research universities can provide would be tied directly to our unique mission of combined research, service, and teaching. But, perhaps MOOCs are one of the unique things (elite) research universities bring to the online learning table. If so, why the elites, why now, and why have they generally been so slow to adopt more traditional forms of online learning?
Although I am going to pursue these questions during the next week or so and consider if "the MOOC is the best we can do," I do want to return to the research, service, and teaching mission of research universities. Christine Geith and I, along with Phil DiSalvio and Wayne Smutz, poked at this at NUTN and Sloan and it seemed to resonate.