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Ohio State offers six online courses to general public through Coursera

Even though OSU is planning to create more open online courses, those already offered through Coursera have had low completion rates so far. Credit: Lantern file photo illustration

Even though OSU is planning to create more open online courses, those already offered through Coursera have had low completion rates so far. Credit: Lantern file photo illustration

While Ohio State is planning to create more massive open online course offerings for no class credit, the handful already offered through one partnership have returned low completion rates.

OSU is one of 85 universities offering free online courses through Coursera, a website that offers classes online to students worldwide at no cost.

Thus far, three of OSU’s Coursera courses — Calculus One, TechniCity and Writing II: Rhetorical Composing — have been through one run to completion, Wayne Carlson, OSU’s vice provost for undergraduate studies and dean of undergraduate education, and Tom Evans, senior instructional designer and open courses coordinator for OSU, both said.

The enrollment numbers in each of the three courses, which cannot be taken for university credit, have been massive in comparison to traditional courses OSU offers, but the completion rates have not been nearly as high.

Of the approximately 47,000 students enrolled in the Calculus I course, only about 1,800 completed it, Evans said. More than 30,000 students enrolled in the rhetorical writing course, Evans said, but Carlson said only about 500 completed the course. Carlson said approximately 400 students completed the TechniCity course out of the 20,000 to 21,000 enrolled.

Though all of the courses had a completion rate of less than 5 percent, Carlson said those completion rates are “not inconsistent with Coursera’s statistics,” and said the low percentages do not concern him.

“It’s looking at who might be taking those courses,” Carlson said. “Of the people who signed up for the course, probably three-fourths or maybe even more already had degrees. So they’re not taking this course in order to earn credit hours, in order to earn a college diploma.”

Carlson added there would be cause for concern if the classes were being taken for credit.

“I would worry about it if you had those kinds of numbers and you sold it as a course for credit, because that would be some pretty dismal completion rates,” he said, “but the completion rate is meaningless if you look at it from the perspective of who’s signing up for it now.”

Some universities have furthered their partnership with Coursera to offer for-credit courses for a fee, but OSU does not expect to do so.

“I don’t think that the relationship with Coursera will expand,” Carlson said.

Evans said offering massive open online courses for credit is not a “strategic goal” of the university, but added that the possibility is not being written off.

“A lot of our ambition and our efforts are a result of interest and requests from the faculty and the colleges at Ohio State,” Evans said. “Right now, we’re not currently looking at MOOCs for credit, but if people, faculty and departments are interested in it, then we’ll start looking into that and seeing what that takes and figuring out what that means.”

OSU currently offers six courses through Coursera: two calculus courses, two courses through the College of Pharmacy, a city and regional planning course and a rhetorical writing course. Students throughout the world can enroll in those courses through Coursera.

Evans said from the approximately 47,000 students that participated in the first run of OSU’s calculus course on Coursera, OSU received roughly the same amount of data they would receive in 10.3 years from traditional education.

OSU mathematics professor Jim Fowler, the head instructor and project manager for OSU’s calculus MOOC program, said technology developed for the Coursera calculus classes is being used to better instruct local OSU students taking in-person calculus courses.

“For local students, building all the content on Coursera means that we’re also producing a lot of content that’s helpful for our in-person students,” Fowler said. “It would have been hard, I think, to justify building a lot of this stuff if there (weren’t) multiple things you could do with it. The fact that we can produce content that has some global purpose but also can be used locally is a good way to justify building a lot of cool online content.”

OSU is not making a profit from its relationship with Coursera, but Evans said the partnership has been beneficial in other ways.

“What we’re learning about is that MOOCs are excellent tools for outreach and engagement, in addition to being able to capture a large amount of student data to help really understand effective online teaching strategies,” Evans said. “We’re looking for ways that we can use that massive amount of data that we’re getting — years of data in such a short period of time — to impact and make enhancements to the way that we’re doing teaching and learning here at Ohio State.”

Carlson said in September, there was a possibility of money becoming involved down the line.

“Now down the road, there may be a business plan, a revenue stream that evolves and then at that particular point, we can enter into discussions with Coursera and the partners about how that revenue is shared. There is no such revenue right now,” Carlson told The Lantern.

Coursera has a Signature Track service through which some of its university partners offer courses for official university recognition for a “small fee,” according to a Coursera release.

University of Michigan, Case Western Reserve, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Duke University and University of Pennsylvania are among the schools offering at least one Signature Track course, according to a listing of courses on Coursera’s website. Prices for available Signature Track courses on Coursera’s website range from $30 to $90, according to the Coursera website.

A request for an interview with the Coursera founders was declined. A Coursera spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment about the Signature Track program.

OSU is keeping its focus on offering for-credit online courses through its own platforms, though, Carlson said.

“I think probably what we learned from our current relationship with Coursera will be brought to bear on other kinds of online courses, or perhaps flipped classroom courses or hybrid courses that we’re going to be offering through Ohio State’s resources,” Carlson said.

A flipped classroom course “involves taking the traditional course elements of homework and lecture and swapping their places within the structure of the course,” according to the OSU University Center for the Advancement of Teaching blog.

OSU has more than 600 for-credit online courses offered through OSU’s resources, Evans said.

Evans said overall, he believes the three Coursera courses that have been completed thus far have been “very successful.” In addition to the six courses already scheduled to be available through Coursera, Evans said OSU plans to add “roughly four courses each year for the next couple years” to the platform.

In total, Evans said OSU’s goal is to develop at least 200 open online courses, including courses hosted on iTunes U in addition to Coursera.

“We’re kind of still looking into this MOOC landscape and testing it out and seeing what’s going on,” Evans said. “As a lot of institutions … are entering in this MOOC arena, we want to be a part and we want to have a seat at that table to help drive how MOOCs are being used within higher ed.”

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