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Welcome to another Textbook Guru review in our series on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). We’ve already reviewed MOOCs as a whole, looked at class structure and reviewed two major players in the space, edX and Udacity. This week we’re taking a look at a clear leader in the MOOC space, Coursera.

Coursera Founders

Coursera was launched in April, 2012 by Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller of Stanford University and a year later has garnered 3.2 million users. The courses offered come from an impressive list of partners including Stanford, Princeton, Duke and the University of Pennsylvania which are among the current roster of 62 partner institutions. They are also one of the first MOOC platforms to offer courses (5 so far) that are approved for college credit by the American Council on Education. However it is still at the discretion of individual colleges whether or not to accept these credits earned through Coursera.

After a simple sign up process, the first thing I noticed that was different about Coursera is the variety of courses available. While other platforms are quickly expanding their course offerings, they are still largely offering computer science courses, however Coursera offers a total of 341 courses across 24 categories. Now, the grain of salt is that 5 of those categories containing 119 courses are all computer science related, but others range from law to music, film and education. So having already tasted a few science courses, I ventured into a Greek and Roman Mythology course offered through the University of Pennsylvania and taught by Associate Professor Peter Struck.


After settling on the course I wanted to try, I was dropped on the course description page which provides a very in depth look at the course including the instructor’s bio, course syllabus, workload estimation and a nice intro video from Struck. So I decide to take the course and go click the large ‘Sign up’ button but see that it’s right next to an even larger ‘Enroll in Signature Track’ button.

Signature Track

Signature Track is a clear sign of the future when it comes to the monetization of MOOCs. While others may develop different revenue models, Signature Track is an enrollment program that links your real identity to your course work on Coursera. First, facial recognition is used to compare your photo ID with a webcam photo of yourself to verify and link your real world identity to your Coursera account. Second, Coursera creates a profile of your typing pattern to verify that it is you who is actually completing course work. How do they do this? A short typing assessment during your Signature Track profile set up has you type the same sentence twice; from this Coursera measures the time between keystrokes and even how many milliseconds you hold down each key to create a benchmark for your typing style.

After verifying your identity, typing pattern and entering all the necessary personal information, you can use a credit card to pay the enrollment fee for Signature track. This allows you to enroll in the Signature Track version of any of the 37 courses currently involved in the program. Once enrolled in a Signature Track course, you may be asked to repeat the verification process (webcam photo and typing pattern test) after completing graded work as a ‘signature’ to verify that it was you who completed it.

However, after you’ve successfully passed a Signature Track course, you earn a Verified Certificate that is issued both by Coursera and the participating university. This does not count towards college credit unfortunately, and they note it does not make you a student of the issuing university, but it is a great addition to your résumé to show your mastery of a subject or skill. Employers can visit Coursera with a special identifying code provided by you to verify that your certifications.

Course Home

Before you start sending out résumés though, you need to do the course work. Once enrolled, the homepage for each course, while not elegant, is very easy to navigate. A series of tabs on the left give you access to the class schedule, video lectures, quizzes, assignments and a discussion forum among others. On the right hand is the news stream with all the latest developments in the course.

The actual interface for the lectures is a bit different than edX or Udacity which string lecture videos, quizzes and discussion questions all through a single view that automatically takes you to the next task. Coursera is more of a build your own adventure because lecture videos are accessed individually and quizzes, assignments and discussions are also housed separately in their own tabs. This makes for a less streamlined and linear student experience, but small little check marks help you keep track of what you’ve completed already.

The actual lecture videos for this course feel very much like an actual college lecture. Struck stands in front of a green screen for his lectures which allows pertinent videos, images and text to be displayed next to him, very similar to a news broadcast.

Lecture VideoClick to watch video

The differences in how you access videos, quizzes and assignments I feel is negligible here, it’s the content that matters, and I feel Coursera is boasting some of the best and most robust courses available. The Signature Track feature is certainly taking MOOCs in the right direction and the same technique may eventually be used for redeemable course credits.

While it’s hard to predict just how MOOCs like Coursera and the traditional college credit system will merge, I imagine that a Signature Track like system will be used to vet student identities and charge them on a course by course basis for college credits. Other platforms may innovate other ways to monetize their courses, but it’s encouraging to see Coursera making progress in this aspect of the MOOC business while holding true to the goal of offering free courses for all.

hen30xjvWelcome back to our series on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Today we are taking a look at one of the largest platforms in the field, Udacity. In case you missed it, we’ve already looked at the MOOC phenomenon in general and what to expect when enrolling in an MOOC. We also looked at one of the other big players in the space, edX.

Udacity is on a mission to bring ‘accessible, affordable, engaging, and highly effective higher education to the world.’ Quite a lofty goal but when your organization is built around the belief that ‘higher education is a basic human right’ it makes perfect sense. Udacity was founded by Sebastian Thrun, David Stavens and Mike Sokolsky who are Udacity’s CEO, President and CTO respectively. Stavens is a computer scientist graduate of Princeton and Stanford and part of the NASA’s Mars Rover team while Sokolsky is an electrical engineer and Stanford robotics researcher.

Udacity 2

However Thrun, a Google Fellow, Stanford Research Professor and former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL) is in some ways the father of Udacity. It all began with a Stanford University experiment in which Thrun and another professor named Peter Norvig offered their ‘Introduction to Artificial Intelligence’ course for free online. More than 160,000 students enrolled from 190 countries in that initial course and Udacity was born in the wake of the experiments success.

The name Udacity comes from the company’s desire to be “audacious for you, the student,” something that offering free courses certainly shows. As of this writing, Udacity offers 22 active courses largely in the computer science and web development realm, but the catalog is diversifying and offers several mathematics courses, introduction to physics and one business course called How to Build a Startup. It looks a bit like a one stop shop for launching your own web or software company if you were so inclined.

Signing up is easy and only requires your name and email, or you can click to sign up with Facebook or Google credentials. As soon as you’re logged in, you’re presented with a snapshot of the overall course catalog divided into Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced courses which acts as a ‘getting started guide,’ but you can easily browse all courses to find one in particular.

Udacity 1

Each course has a summary page to give you a taste of the subject matter and a look at the course instructors before signing up. For my test run I checked out Introduction to Physics, taught by instructor Andy Brown, an MIT graduate. I have to say, Andy’s intro video is well done and much more exciting than some others.

Signing up for the class takes one click on the aptly named ‘Take Course’ button. From there you are launched immediately into the first lesson which starts with another intro video from Brown. The course itself is a series of videos broken up by short quizzes after each section. Unlike the previous course I showed you from edX, this is an online only course and there are no videos of classroom lectures. Instead each lesson video is essentially a voice over as Brown explains and demonstrates concepts through a sort of digital whiteboard.

This course in particular is unique in that Brown has paired his lessons on basic physics principals with a discussion of the people who conceived of and proved them. For instance, the first lesson focuses on principals discovered by Archimedes, so you get a brief lesson on who Archimedes was and what his major contributions to math and science were. Brown also sprinkles in interviews with Enrico Giusti, Curator of the Garden of Archimedes, a museum dedicated to this legendary physicist.

Udacity 3

Skipping between these ‘chapters’ of each lesson is very simple, and each chapter has its own area for discussions where students can ask questions and a section for ‘Instructor Notes’ if clarification is needed. A drop down menu lets you jump between lessons and also contains problem sets, learning resources and even the course’s final exam.  This kind of quick navigation makes it simple for users to jump around within the course or come back afterwards to reference particular lessons or proofs. However, on the first read through it’s not only easy, but recommended that you simply follow along as the Udacity interface carries you from one lesson to the next.

One difference between the Udacity and edX interfaces is the discussion section. As I noted above, Udacity has discussion areas attached to each video in each lesson. This allows you to be incredibly granular in your discussion or questions by attaching them to the specific material you are struggling with. However, this also divides the discussions and makes them harder for students to find and participate in. EdX swings in the opposite direction, with one discussion forum for the entire class that spans all topics and questions. It seems to me that Udacity’s model is the equivalent of raising your hand in class, which is dependent on an attentive professor while edX’s model is closer to a discussion section course with a more broad focus. Just like the real world though, both models are useless without strong student participation.

Udacity has a strong and growing course selection and a very streamlined interface. I believe that as their course catalog grows, and the Udacity staff gains learning’s from student feedback, they will likely expand their interface to accommodate more customization by professors to fit their course material. In the mean time however it is quite simple for most anyone to pick up and use immediately. Udacity has done a great drop of keeping the barrier to entry as low as possible to make it quick and simple for any prospective student to get started.

EdX Logo.PNGWelcome back to our 5 part series on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). If you missed it, we’ve already taken a broad look at MOOCs as a whole and an overview of what taking an MOOC is like. Today we’re looking more closely at one of the top platforms on the web, edX.

While many MOOC platforms have partnerships with major universities, or are founded by current/former university professors and faculty, edX is unique in that it is the only major MOOC platform founded specifically by a University. Not just one University either but rather a partnership between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Founded in April 2012, edX’s goals “combine the desire to reach out to students of all ages, means, and nations and to deliver these teachings from a faculty who reflect the diversity of its audience.” An admirable goal, but not entirely selfless as they also state that “[Harvard and MIT] will use edX to research how students learn and how technology can transform learning-both on campus and worldwide.”

edX Courses

If this research has gleaned any insight into student behavior in its first year it is surely that students are hungry for more. Former Director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and current edX President, Anant Agarwal has expansion on his mind. Currently edX offers 15 classes from HarvardX, MITx and BerkeleyX but plans to add WelleslyX, GeorgetownX and the University of Texas System to its roster by fall 2013. With more than 200 institutions around the world expressing interest in collaborating with edX, Agarwal has quite a selection to choose from and looking even further ahead, edX plans to offer courses from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, McGill University, University of Toronto, Australian National University, Delft University of Technology, and Rice University in 2014.

Like most MOOC platforms, edX does offer certificates to students who successfully complete courses. Called a ‘certificate of mastery,’ each certificate is awarded ‘at the discretion of edX and the underlying X University that offered the course under the name of the underlying “X University” from where the course originated.” Essentially, if you come to edX and take an artificial intelligence course that is offered through edX by MITx, then your certificate of mastery will come from MITx and not edX.

One big question surrounding MOOCs is monetization. How can any MOOC platform stay in business if it’s giving away its service for free? One way edX plans to keep the lights on is by charging ‘a modest fee’ for certificates down the road. However if you were fortunate enough to start a course in Fall 2012 then your certificate will be as free as your class. Down the road I expect all MOOC platforms will adopt some sort of fee associated with their certificates because honestly that’s the part that with the most value in the working world.


Signing up with edX is simply and straight forward. In honesty more personal information is required for most online purchases you make than to sign up for edX. After setting up your account, browsing courses is akin to browsing any online store, with a very concise product description and even a video introduction for most. The start date and any prerequisites are clearly stated and pictures and short bios on the course staff are listed. Registering for a class takes one click and which adds it to ‘Current Courses’ on your home dashboard.

Course List

From your dashboard, it’s easy to manage any number of courses (that you think you’ll have time for). Each course is equipped with its own dashboard which gives you quick access to several tabs set up at the discretion of the staff, but the most common are:

  • Courseware: Your actual course material including lecture videos, quizzes, self assessments and reading assignments.
  • Course Info: Initially an “about” section that is updated frequently by course staff and serves as source for news and updates about the course
  • Discussion: an easily navigated student/staff discussion forum where students can ask questions and discuss the material with each other and staff.
  • Wiki: a sort of FAQ to the course and using the edX platform.
  • Progress: A sort of report card on the entire class’ performance in the course, broken down by week.

edX Courseware

The courses themselves are easy to follow along with on the Courseware tab. On this tab, the left hand column gives you easy navigation to any part of the course. Some professors divide the course into ‘Hours’ while some call them ‘Weeks” but in any case the tabs on the left hand menu open to reveal the contents of each section of the overall course. These sections will include all lectures, lab videos, problem sets, homework, quizzes and reading/resource materials.

edX quiz

Following along with each lecture is also very straight forward, with an easy navigation bar across the top with content displayed below. You can skip between sections of the lecture or simply follow along with the predetermined order of lecture videos, self assessments and class quizzes. Each course will use the edX organization structure in different ways, but everything will be grouped similarly making the navigation learning curve very short.

I believe edX has done a great job of setting up an organizational framework that hits the median between student needs and faculty needs. After minimal exploration, students will quickly grasp the structure each course is organized into and even feel comfortable picking up a course in progress and getting caught up. On the other hand, faculty seems to be making use of a fair amount of customization of that same structure to bend the edX platform to fit their specific course needs.

EdX has a lot of growing planed in the next couple years, but the platform is positioned to make expansion seamless. The only pressing question for long-term growth and sustainability is how edX will go about monetizing their platform. Charging for certificates seems very natural but how much will they cost? Will there be a universal pricing structure or will it vary by XUniversity, by course? We’ll have to wait and see but as long as the pricing is reasonable and the courses stay free I see no reason to complain.

Recently I broached the subject of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which have very recently exploded onto the academic scene. They are an exciting new way of learning; able to reach thousands of students simultaneously while being completely free. It’s an attractive concept, but the question is how this concept performs in the real world. Today we’ll take a look at what it’s like to take an MOOC.

For starters, it’s free, so if you’re ever curious I encourage you to pick a course that sounds at all interesting and take a look. Just poke around the reading material, watch lectures and see if it appeals to you. I’ll admit the concept of any online course, but especially one I’m taking for free and not necessarily for credit makes motivation an issue. However that’s the lazy undergrad in me talking, and if I were to take an MOOC at this age, it would likely be for a specific purpose such as updating my knowledge of specific software or gaining a certification to improve my employment chances.


MOOCs are so young that there isn’t exactly a standard operating procedure just yet, and your experience will vary from platform to platform and even course to course. However you can expect to have a syllabus, video lectures from the professor, textbooks or assigned readings and a student discussion forum. One big relief for me was finding out that most textbooks for MOOCs are free and available within the course materials online. Beyond that, they are often divided up piece meal, with the readings for each lesson grouped with the lecture videos for that lesson, freeing you from flipping (or scrolling) through one big document.

While I honestly shouldn’t have been surprised, my years in college lead me to suspect the student discussion forum would be largely empty and mostly dominated by a select few students. However, given that the forums are the only place to ask questions the the professor and class, it makes sense that they are actually quite active. If you think about it, it’s still likely that a small percentage of the whole class is actually participating, with most simply browsing, but with hundreds or thousands of students in each class, this makes for a lively and active forum.

Lesson Plan DocThe structure of each lecture will vary based on the course material, but in the first course I signed up for, Introduction to Biology hosted by edX, the lectures were divided into ‘chapters’ if I can use that term loosely. For instance, the first chapter was a 1 minute video from the professor, Eric Lander of MIT, introducing the course and its structure. Chapter two was a longer (7 min) video shot from the back of an actual lecture with a room full of students in which Lander often addressed the camera directly as he scans the room of students, giving you the feeling of being just another participant in the course. That is clearly very superficial, but an interesting tactic to try to engage the online audience.

So, after a short video of the first few minutes of Lander’s lecture, we’re given a discussion question in chapter 3 in which lander asks what we, the online students, are hoping to gain from this course. This is conducted in the form of a discussion forum. The lecture continues in chapter 4 and, with the introductory stuff complete, we get a sense of how the lectures are truly structured. In general, each 5-10 minutes of lecture is broken up by a short quiz, usually multiple-choice but sometimes in the form of a discussion thread.

Now here’s where we jump tracks to show the differences between courses and platforms. For my next course I dropped in on an Introduction to Computer Science course on Udacity. The instructor for this course was David Evans, a professor at the University of Virginia. While the intro bio class gave a very organic feel with the traditional lecture hall, this course appropriately had very technical feel. The backbone of the course was largely the same, with short lecture videos broken up with quizzes, however instead of dropping in on a traditional lecture, these videos are produced specifically for the online student. Each video is just you and the Professor Evans as appears to write on top of your screen like a white board.

Also, given that this is a computer science course with lots of coding, instead of multiple choice questions most quizzes consist of writing functioning code to accomplish a task (such as a countdown timer).

Overall I believe taking an MOOC is extremely intuitive and streamlined. The division of course material, with lectures, quizzes and reading materials divided into linear, bite sized chunks, makes digesting the course simple. A big bonus to MOOC students over traditional students is being able to go back and rewatch a lecture (or part of one) if you are struggling with a certain piece of material. This is exceptionally helpful with courses in math, computer science or chemistry in which specific formulas or sequences must be memorized and mastered before moving on.

The biggest hurdle for MOOCs that I see at this stage is actually the student. The material and courses themselves I think are extremely intuitive and easy to navigate, but the motivation and focused attention of the student is variable. It’s incredibly easy to blow off watching a lecture that will still be there tomorrow, or to give in to distractions like browsing the web while the lectures play.

However  MOOCs do not have to worry about graduation rates or student grade point averages like Universities do, and the cream of the student crop will inevitably rise to the top and take full advantage of the platform. In that sense the numbers game works in favor of MOOCs since even if they have low completion/certification rates, there is still a large number of students gaining value given the volume that can take any one course.

The MOOC experience is not at all comparable to the traditional University experience, but it’s not trying to be. MOOCs are a new kind of course for a new kind of student. With more and more students trying to negotiate a course schedule, work schedule and their own social lives, MOOCs are a easy to fit into your life.

In a decision of great consequence to our industry (as well as to all things copyright), the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ruled 6-3 in favor of allowing resellers who buy copyrighted products abroad to resell them in domestically without permission from copyright owners.

The Guru has been following this case since the start (International Textbook Editions: It’s all legal until it isn’t). Nearly a year ago, I brought you the story of Supap Kirtsaeng, a Californian whose family in Thailand sent him textbooks to resell, which he reportedly did on eBay in earnings of $37,000, and the publisher’s reaction (John Wiley & Sons sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement and won to the tune of $75,000 in damages for each book), and how Kirtsaeng then appealed arguing that he is protected by the first-sale doctrine.

Never has there been any doubt in my mind that this case would be a game changer, regardless of how it was decided, and honestly, given the Court’s current makeup of Justices from business backgrounds who strongly favor free enterprise, I’m not surprised by the way it shook down. But it’s interesting and complicated and the repercussions will be massive.

First, a bit about the ruling:

  • The majority opinion (written by Justice Breyer on behalf of himself, Justices Alito, Kagan, Sotomayor, Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts) took the stance that once goods are sold lawfully (domestically or abroad), publishers and manufacturers lose the protection of U.S. copyright law and that “reliance upon the ‘first sale’ doctrine is deeply embedded in the practices of those, such as booksellers, libraries, museums, and retailers, who have long relied upon its protection.” Breyer stated that a ruling otherwise “would prevent the resale of, say, a car, without the permission of the holder of each piece of copyrighted automobile software.”
  • In a separate opinion, Justice Kagan (joined by Justice Alito), wrote that Congress is free to change the law if it thinks holders of copyrights need more protection.
  • In dissent, Justice Ginsburg (on behalf of herself and Justices Kennedy and Scalia) said the court was ignoring Congress’s aim of protecting “copyright owners against the unauthorized importation of low-priced, foreign-made copies of their copyrighted works.”

A bit about the reaction:

  • In favor (interestingly this includes support by both for-profit companies and non-profit organizations):
  • eBay warned that a ruling in favor of the publisher would have been a blow to “trade, consumers, secondary markets, e-commerce, small businesses and jobs.”
  • Goodwill Industries said such an outcome would have had “a catastrophic effect on the viability of the secondary market and, consequently, on Goodwill’s ability to provide needed community-based services.”


  • The Software & Information Industry Association claims that as a result of the ruling, “American publishers will face direct harm, because our markets will be open to a flood of copyrighted material that was intended for purchase overseas. By exploiting pricing models that are meant for students in undeveloped nations, importers both deny those students a full education, and threaten American publishers’ ability to do business abroad.”
  • Keith Kupferschmid, general counsel for the Software & Information Industry Association said, “The ruling for Kirtsaeng will send a tremor through the publishing industries, harming both U.S. businesses and consumers around the world. Today’s decision will create a strong disincentive for publishers to market different versions and sell copies at different prices in different regions. The practical result may very well be that consumers and students abroad will see dramatic price increases or entirely lose their access to valuable U.S. resources created specifically for them.”

The Guru Weighs In
My guess is that this morning saw publishers anxiously getting into boardrooms to discuss how this ruling may result in a flood of foreign-printed-and-supplied cheap textbooks (technically new but marketed as used) could enter the market and thus undercut the price of new books. In the past, the only books one could purchase overseas were international editions, which were not for resale in the United States; now, many are publishing the U.S. edition overseas and importing it. Sellers that can get their hands on these foreign-made U.S. editions are bringing them back to the U.S. and selling them as used books. This practice is sure to grow with the ruling.

Here are a few of the stories on this ruling.

http://www.scmp.com/sites/default/files/styles/980w/public/2012/11/16/ce16a159d9276ca2c12c81a0bfa2a4e3.jpgI have been hopefully following the movement towards more affordable education for a while now, primarily tracking the growth of digital textbooks and their impact on the high prices student’s pay for education. However, if you’ve read my reviews of the major eTextbook platforms, you’ll know that while eBooks are innovating textbooks with interactive rich media and customization, they are still little more than digital versions of paper books. The kind of innovation that is really going to move the needle on education isn’t a repackaging of existing tools, it’s a rethinking of the tools themselves. This is where Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are succeeding, by flipping the academic model on its head.

Online courses in general are nothing new, and have seen explosive adoption, first by small universities and community colleges as an adaptive way to meet the scheduling needs of students. These days though, they are regular offerings for most major universities and any misgivings about their effectiveness at replacing the traditional class experience have been largely disproved or found negligible.  However, the massive and open part of MOOCs are what make them an exciting part of the OER movement because they are a one-two punch at higher education costs.

On the one hand, they are massive with thousands of students enrolling in a single course. General requirement courses at large universities typically see several hundred students packed into the school’s largest lecture halls,  however when Stanford offered their ‘Introduction to Artificial Intelligence’ course online to anyone, for free, they had 160,000 students from more than 190 countries enroll.

The second aspect is how open these courses are. While down the road MOOCs will have to develop some sort of monetization strategy to survive, they are built around the goal of making college level courses  free to anyone who wants to sign up. This democratization of higher learning is good news for students currently shelling out tens of thousands of dollars a year for their education. Before we take a look at the structure of MOOCs, lets briefly review the three major players in the field.

Udacity LogoBorn out of a Stanford University experiment, Udacity was founded in February 2012 by Sebastian Thun, David Stavens and Mike Sokolsky, with backing from VC firm Charles River Ventures and $300K of Thrun’s own money.  With a “mission to change the future of education,” Udacity’s student body now boasts over 400K students and more than 20 courses in computer science.


A mere 3 months later, edX was launched in April as a joint project between Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. In spring 2012, edX enrollment showed over 370,000 unique users enrolled in 8 courses and they have expended to 9 courses in the fall. While the other major platforms were founded by professors at major universities and boast partnerships with many notable and recognizable institutions, edX is the only one backed both financially and academically by a university (in this case two).

Coursera, backed by $16 million in venture capital was founded in April 2012 as well by two Stanford computer Science professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng and on February 21st this year announced a near doubling of its university network and 92 new courses. This explosive program expansion is welcome news for Coursera’s 2.7 million students who can now take courses from Northwestern, Penn State and Rutgers among the newly added universities.

Now, with three big players in the game backed by millions of investment dollars, MOOCs are carving out a sizeable niche in higher education. The term MOOC itself was coined in 2008 by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island and Bryan Alexander of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education. While each MOOC platform is different, in general they are built around the same core principals. For a breakdown, I’ll let Cromier himself explain:

What does this mean for students? First and foremost, it does not mean you can now get your bachelors degree for free, as exciting as that prospect would be. What it does mean is that anyone, student or otherwise, can take a growing number of classes free of charge and without registering with any institution. For now these classes are largely limited to the computer sciences; however the course catalogs of the major platforms have already grown in their first year and will continue to expand into other disciplines.

It also means that students can supplement their university education with MOOCs by taking courses for free and then paying for accreditation from universities and institutions that have partnered with their MOOC platform. MOOCs aren’t just for college students, professionals looking to keep their skills up to date or change fields can use them to avoid costly certification programs or going back to college. On the other end of that spectrum, it’s a great way for ambitious high school students to get a head start on college by completing courses for credit ahead of time or just getting a grasp of what college level courses are like.

The benefits to students are obvious and expanding rapidly. For our education system in general, the impact will be less immediate as it is counter to the traditional tuition model. However slow academia is to adopt this new methodology, I believe it will continue to grow and eventually be folded into the course catalogs of most major universities.

The benefits to Universities may not be as obvious since it seems like they are giving away courses for free, but that is actually tilting the numbers in their favor. For example, lets take a hypothetical college course with 1,000 students that has a pass rate of 85%. This means that 850 students will pass that class and get the credit on their transcript. However even if an MOOC had a pass rate of 10% but had enrolled 100,000 students (a relatively small course) they would still be passing 10,000 students. While the cost per credit will likely fluctuate before being leveled by competition and demand, it’s easy to see why a university would want to get that 10% to come to them for accreditation.

Want to know more about MOOCs? Stay tuned for the rest of our MOOC series as we explore in depth the inner workings of the three big players and take a look at how their courses function. In the mean time, take a look at this great info-graphic from 20MM and this one on Wired Academic.

In the past I have done reviews of the textbooks and platform at Flat World Knowledge.  In December 2012, Flat World announced a change to their business model which previous to this change always gave a free web version of the book as part of the program.  The new announcement was met with mix review but with anything in life, things change.  The change, effect Jan 1, 2013, now charges a minimum fee for web content.  The beauty of open content is that once you publish it you can’t change the publishing rights.  This means that anything published prior to January 1, 2013 still lives within the creative common license to which it was originally penned.  The question you maybe asking is “how do I get the free books if they are no longer free?”  and that is a great question.  The answer is we have Aaron Schmitz to thank as he archived many of the book prior to the change.   You can read more about this and access the books here.

Today, in a few minutes, I will be online following a conference in California on the state of education.  Come on line and check it out with me.


The agenda looks really good. It is time that we face problems and talk about them, not continue to hide and ignore them.



We’re not even three weeks into this month and already October has seen the Digital vs. Print Textbooks debate really heat up and some heavy hitters, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, weigh in with the bold statement “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete.” That’s provocative stuff and there’s a lot more to the story and good points made from all angles. For some in-depth coverage of where things stand and where we’re headed — including expert opinions, stats and survey results, an infographic, historical comparisons, and more — check out an article I did, “The End of Print? Hold That Thought” on the CampusBooks.com blog.

As I learn more and more about open educational resources, I have discovered that we need to learn a new language and discover new tools. One blogger, Paul Stacey, has put together a really nice guide to OER in his recent post “Sips from An Open Firehose.”

His larger blog, EdTechFrontier.com, covers open textbooks, MOOCs, the MIT challenge, the year of open source, policies, institutes, conferences, copyright, and more. This blog is lengthy, detailed, insightful, and full of valuable links. It’s too much to digest in a single day but a great resource to be aware of as we all try to keep up with the changing world of education.