Kennesaw State gives online education model a try




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Massive online open courses, or MOOCs, have had mixed results so far in higher education, but that hasn’t stopped Kennesaw State University from launching its first such course.

KSU’s MOOC, offered as part of a University System of Georgia multi-institution partnership with the Coursera company, seems to be off to a fast start. Within two weeks of enrollment opening for the course — on blended and online learning in k-12 education — more than 1,500 participants had registered. By the time class starts Jan. 6, enrollment is expected to top 2,500.

“I think people have latched on to the word MOOC because it’s easy to say and spell, but it’s really a field of new learning models,” said Elke Leeds, who is responsible for KSU’s online and distance learning programs.

However, the online learning expansion comes in the wake of early MOOCs launched elsewhere about two years ago not living up to their billing. The mostly free, open online courses initially were hailed as the savior of modern higher education, able to provide thousands of people worldwide with free access to classes taught by renowned professors.

Since then, national studies have found the open courses have drawn thousands of participants, but few have completed them.

Emory University, for example, has seen single-digit completion rates for its MOOCs, Senior Vice Provost Lynn Zimmerman said, adding it “is not unusual to have a 7 percent to 9 percent rate of people who start and work through all the videos and finish the course.”

The Emory results are similar to a study released this month by the University of Pennsylvania that reported completion rates averaged 4 percent across the 16 courses reviewed.

Some education experts warn against putting too much credence in the numbers because many participants in these open courses come just for cursory information and never intend to complete the courses.

Still, the low completion rates are a key concern for the state university system as it ramps up its MOOC offerings, said Houston Davis, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer. Institutions are recognizing that there may be additional support needed for MOOC students, he said, and that the open online classes may not be the best option for some students.

University System of Georgia officials say they are taking a more deliberate approach to their offerings and targeting specific groups of participants.

“I think this is really a complement to the standard way of learning more so than this will replace the traditional face-to-face environment,” Davis said.

Overall, the expansion of more innovative education options — including MOOCs — has been evolving.

Nationally, about 30 percent of higher education students are taking some type of online classes, which began gaining traction about 15 years ago, said Ray Schroeder, who has done extensive research on the topic at the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Emory, for example, just completed its pilot semester of online, for-credit courses. These courses, with class sizes of no more than about 20 students, offered weekly online interactive sessions with an instructor. The courses differed from MOOCs, which are typically free and can have thousands of participants.

Taking one of those classes changed the perception of online courses for Lindsey Cohen, 21, a senior at the school.

“I had a view of online classes being boring … with a lot of reading material and then you take a quiz,” she said. “With this class, they were good at facilitating discussion. That’s what the once-a-week session was about, so it helped me feel connected to other students.”

Emory offered two online classes during fall semester and plans to expand the program in the spring.

The KSU model for its new MOOC is designed to be different from the relative hands-off approach of traditional MOOCs. The course instructor is already interacting with registered students, more than 45 videos featuring a variety of speakers have been produced, and the school has partnered with the state to offer the course for all k-12 instructors.

“People are looking at MOOCs as a panacea, but we look at it as a synonym for change,” KSU’s Leeds said.

Regardless of the method, the overall goal is to increase graduation rates while providing more flexible learning options and lower costs for students, Davis said.

“The (online) model has merged into the interstate of several other conversations,” he said. “This was talked about way before the term MOOC was bandied about. It’s driving a conversation about scale, how best to deliver content.”



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit