Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gates Foundation: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

The Gates Foundation has made a number of strategic investments in a range of postsecondary areas, and these investments complement several existing work streams. Though Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have much to prove, the foundation is interested in their potential to make content and learning more accessible and affordable at web scale—at least for some students and some types of content.
It has never been more important for Americans to have training and education after high school. Sadly, far too few people complete a degree or training program, leaving most of them unqualified for the best opportunities. We believe an education ecosystem with diverse options for faculty and students, and options that meet a wide array of learning needs and styles, will help increase student success rates. We are eager to learn from and share the data that will be generated from our investments in MOOCs in order to advance teaching and learning.
In June 2012, the Gates Foundation made a grant to MIT to develop and offer a MOOC. MIT’s new, free prototype computer science online course, offered through edX, and in partnership with community colleges, will experiment with using the course in a “flipped” classroom.
On November 13th 2012, the foundation awarded 12 grants, totaling more than $3 million, in new investments in MOOCs. These grants include:
  • $895,484 to the American Council on Education to test the viability of MOOCs for college transfer credit and to establish a Presidents Innovation Lab to explore new business models in higher education
  • $268,920 to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities to explore the viability of a consortium of two- and four-year colleges to collaborate on digital courseware development and usage, including MOOCs
  • $1,440,900 to Ithaka S+R to monitor, assess, and document lessons learned from the implementations of a range of MOOCs and MOOC platforms in partnership with the University of Maryland System
  • $550,000 in total to the following institutions ($50,000 per MOOC) to develop introductory and remedial level MOOCs. These institutions are winners selected from a Request for Proposals released in September (technology platform partner noted in parentheses):

The foundation also announced a pool of approximately $250,000 in research funds on November 12th that will be allocated in the coming months. Among the questions that will be addressed are:
  • For which students, disciplines, types of knowledge, and contexts are MOOCs more/less effective?
  • Which components drive impact for non-self-directed learners and what additional supports need to be added online or face-to-face?
  • What data captured from MOOCs is most informative and how might such data be best used for the advancement of learning?

Our goal is to help talented, committed faculty members improve their practice and reach more students while enabling a broader range of learners to potentially benefit from MOOCs. With these grants we aim to:
  • Expand MOOC content to include more introductory courses, and to make such content available and accessible to a broader range of learners. Presently, MOOC content is aimed at upper division content and, for the most part, learners with more advanced academic proficiency. The only way to understand the potential impact and benefit of MOOCs for low-income young adults is to make sure they can access and utilize the courses;
  • Better understand different “use cases” for MOOCs, including how they might be integrated into classroom practice in order to support completion and lower costs; and
  • Conduct research to understand the student-level impact of such courses and to understand how these types of tools are most effectively implemented.

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