Massive open online courses or, MOOCs, are a very hot topic in education these days. The general idea behind a MOOC is that professors teaching a class can put course materials, including instructional content like videos of lectures, online in such a way that almost anyone with internet access can follow along. Many colleges and universities have signed up with companies like Coursera, Udacity and edXto provide a platform that enables interested people from anywhere in the world to “take a class.”
The “M” for massive comes from the opportunity for thousands of students to take one of these courses at the same time, but it also creates some problems that institutions of higher learning are only beginning to address. Perhaps the most obvious issue is convincing students that going to MIT or Harvard or Stanford is still valuable, even if their classes are available online for free? Many people argue that simply putting materials online cannot take the place of the in-person instruction and assistance that the paying students receive. Certainly with a large class, the professor does not have the time to respond to questions and help every student who might be taking the course online. Sometimes with MOOCs, support comes from online message boards where the online students respond to each other and perhaps form subgroups for mutual support rather than hoping the professor might find the time to address their particular question. It is a very interesting model.
The University of Baltimore is actively exploring the use of MOOCs. Most notably, this semester renowned historian and author Taylor Branch is offering a MOOC based on his newest book The King Years. In addition, UB is participating in a project being run throughout the University System of Maryland to study how content from MOOCs might be integrated into classes.
All this is a rather long background to the topic suggested by the title of the post: where does the library fit in with a MOOC? Academic libraries tend to pay for and license electronic content that could not be made available to thousands of online users who are not paying for a course. So what does one do? There are a few options. If professors rely on their own notes and writings (to which they have retained the copyright), they can put them online. Perhaps MOOCS will provide momentum to those wishing to promote open access publishing models. On many campuses with MOOCs, librarians have helped to find resources and navigate copyright issues surrounding the implementation of open online courses where licensed content did not seem a viable option. For several years now, the primary role of academic libraries has been shifting away from being curators and repositories of information to that of being guides for navigating the oceans of information currently available. If MOOCs continue to gain in popularity, this shift may continue on at a much faster pace.
I've wondered how it would work to offer a version of our Information literacy course as an open online course. I imagine we'd want to start it–at least at first–as an open course just for UB students (UBOOC?). After it got some momentum and we worked the kinks out, I could see it being opened to that massive world audience.
None of this speculation answers the real questions about whether MOOCs are worthwhile and how they ought to be approached. However, I could see there being real value in an open course on research basics. An optional course like this might be a fantastic way to reach out to graduate students (to name one group of many) who don't get library instruction at all.