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Is the 'College of the Future' it for everyone?

10:03 AM, Feb 19, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Right now many high school seniors already know or are deciding which college to attend in the fall. But with tuition at the average public university costing $22,000 year and a private university double that, some can't afford to go to school. A new type of online learning called mooc's, massive open online courses, may change that. Students from anywhere in the world can take top tier university classes online for free. However, some argue that this type of learning is not for everyone or every school.

"We'll take you through a series of activities to take your course and redesign it," said Deb Miller, the director of the Center for Instruction and Research Technology at the University of North Florida. Miller is talking to a brand new class of UNF professors who are learning how to make their classes more online friendly. In a few months each of the instructors will be able to turn their classroom course into an online course. Unlike a mooc course, UNF's online courses are smaller and serve only students who are enrolled at the school.

When Miller came to UNF 12 years ago the school only offered 6 courses online. That's changed dramatically over the years. "This spring semester we have 160 courses being offered online. That is the largest number ever," said Miller. Many of those students taking UNF's online courses are also students going to classes on campus. "There's been a lot of state cuts in revenue to universities which means fewer courses typically. So when they have the flexibility of some of their courses being taken online they can build a schedule to get what they need," said Miller. An average of 20 to 40 students are in each UNF online course. Students get a grade, earn school credit and pay regular tuition plus a fee

Compare that with a mooc or a massive open online course where up to 50,000 students can be enrolled. There's no tuition, no school credit and the majority of the students are from outside the United States. The University of Florida is experimenting with mooc's through a website called Coursera and it's costing the school a pretty penny to produce each of the five courses. "Anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000," said University of Florida Associate Provost Dr. Andy McCullough.

UF says it's investing the time and money into these huge online courses to understand how learning takes place in that environment. Over at the University of North Florida, the school says it will continue to develop its own smaller online courses and doesn't plan to sign up for Coursera or any other mooc just yet. "I haven't seen a quote, unquote "profitable" model yet for those," said Miller.

So how will those free courses pay for themselves? One way is to offer a certificate of completion for students, say for $10 each, when they finish the course. Another way is to have employers pay for the contact information of the top students who complete a course. As for grading, UNF has a system of checks to make sure the person taking an online class is also the one taking the quizzes and tests. Currently, less than 10% of people taking a mooc class actually finish the class. "For credit" online courses have a far higher completion rate.

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