Wednesday, April 22, 2015


What Problem are ASU and EdX Solving?

Maybe it’s me.  But I’m just not grasping the ASU/edX MOOCs-for-credit thing.

According to Carl Straumsheim’s piece in IHE, a student who enrolls in one (or more) from a specific set of MOOCs offered through edX will have the option of paying a $45 fee for identity verification, followed by a $200 per credit fee to Arizona State, to have the MOOC performance translated into academic credit by and for ASU.

Or, that same student could take an actual course, online or onsite, from a community college.  It would cost less, and would have an actual instructor provide actual guidance and feedback  throughout the course.  The credits would transfer anywhere, not just to ASU.  Tuition at Maricopa -- the community college local to Phoenix -- is $84 per credit, as opposed to $200 for the MOOC.  Even in the higher-tuition Northeast, we come in well below $200 per credit.  And community colleges run full slates of general education courses.

Even better, taking the course with a community college offers access to online tutoring, library resources, and other student supports that have been “unbundled” from the MOOC.

ASU is pointing out that a student doesn’t need to pass through the ASU admissions process to take a MOOC.  That’s true, as far as it goes, but community colleges are also open-admission, and have been for decades.

I’m just not sure which problem they think they’re solving.

To the extent that MOOCs were going to disrupt higher education, I thought the argument was that they’d undercut incumbent providers on cost.  But with over 1.100 community colleges in America routinely undercutting the MOOC on cost, I don’t see it.

I guess there’s a presumption about prestige, but at this point, community college credits are far more widely recognized than MOOC credits are.  ASU is offering to launder the currency, in a sense, but if you’re going to jump through extra hoops anyway, why not work with a real professor?

Maybe in a few places, the local community colleges are oversubscribed.  But online, you aren’t necessarily tied to a local college.  

Scheduling might be the issue, to the extent that MOOCs start whenever you want.  (I couldn’t tell from the article if that applies here.)

Wise and worldly readers, am I missing something?  Does the ASU/edX solve a problem I’m not seeing?

As it happened, I just wrote about ASU in the context of some of the ideas I've gathered from you. You can read it here:

I'd chalk this move up to another 'entrepreneurial' gambit by Michael Crow. He has big visions for ASU becoming one of the great universities of the future based on his idea of regionalism (with Phoenix/Tempe as the center of a SW region stretching from CA to TX and both north and south).

It's also worth noting the local CC context, in which the state just zeroed out its funding for the two largest CC systems (Maricopa and Pima). As that seems likely to drive up costs, ASU will be in a position to (potentially) benefit from the shrinking cost differential without actually admitting those otherwise CC bound students (and having them then count against its graduation rates).
Perhaps the motivation is the bottom line on the budget? Creating the initial courses is a cost (I saw a mention of existing faculty in the IHE link), and then perhaps the $/credit can cover other ASU costs. Perhaps this is cynical, but it could be a low-cost revenue source.
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This is only a priority because Tom Friedman's mustache ^h^h^h^h^h^h^h driver thinks it's The Future.
Reading more on this I'm increasingly convinced that the focus is on finances and grad rates rather than students. The WaPo write-up has lots of talk about a soft entry for students into college, being able to decide later whether they want to enroll. That sounds (a) like not a real benefit anyone needed and (b) like a great way to weed out those who might not complete their first year before they've formally entered to count against graduation rates. All this while still making money off them. One more example of your need for an Online Completion Agenda.
I think I have an explanation. A student can decide after-the-fact whether to pay the fees. So the cost is deferred. And, depending on the "grading" standards built into the MOOCs, a student may be able to "successfully complete" the course while doing a lot less work than in an online course from a CC. Of course, that implies less learning, and less adequate preparation for courses for which these MOOCs serve as pre-requisites...but...
Merely not having to go into a physical class may be an advantage worth the cost disparity-- if the only time you can take classes is from 10 PM to 6 AM, then it's MOOC's or nothing.
Our CC that's literally in my backyard charges $500 per 3-credit course - and 0% refund even if you drop the first day. What ASU is offering is Gen Ed credits that my high school kid could take while in high school, without the up-front payment and without a transcript that follows him forever if things don't work out. So, in my case, ASU wins over local CC.

For a student at Big State U., I see no difference between a MOOC and a 300 student lecture hall for, say, Intro Psych. All I recall from that course from my UG days was boring lectures and 50 question multiple choice tests. That's still par for the course at most Big State U's or Directional State U's.
Not quite sure I understand how such courses are superior to a well developed MOOC with verification of ID etc.
I think that you hit the nail on the head: the idea is selling "laundered" credits that appear the same as credits from traditional courses. The perception is that credits from Flagship State University will have a better chance of being accepted for transfer (note that I'm not arguing that they *will* be or *should be* easier to transfer, but only the perception). Clearly, community colleges offer a cheaper and (quite likely) better quality way to earn these credits, but I suspect that this program is built on perceptions.
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