In a recent interview, celebrated visionary and entrepreneur Sebastian Thrun, whose ideas and initiatives regarding Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) promised to usher in a new era of anxiety and disruption for higher education, admits in a shocking turn that his product is “lousy” and that his company Udacity is transitioning to corporate training. The response has been swift and varied. Rebecca Schuman of Slate takes Thrun to task for blaming the students for the failure of his company to educate them effectively. In Huffington Post, Keith Devlin defends MOOCs and calls on Silicon Valley to develop the right kind of product to fulfill the original vision. In most of the responses thus far, commentators have focused what this development means for the disruptive promise of technology in higher education.
At the University of Baltimore, we have been working on a response to the MOOC movement, a response that is more modest in scope, scale, and ambition. Eschewing the grandiose claims and outsized expectations of MOOC purveyors, our Office of Academic Innovation has partnered with the University System of Maryland and Pulitzer-Prize winning author Taylor Branch to leverage the technological capabilities of an online platform and provide a unique, highly specialized, for-credit educational experience at a lower cost for students. Our aim is not to displace or replace existing courses or faculty, but to complement and supplement the offerings of our partnering institutions. We hope that our course this spring provides a useful data point for determining the direction in which online education can profitably go. Stay tuned!