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MOOCs Aim To Fill Knowledge Gaps In Secondary Education

By Lisa R. Melsted

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For several years, massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have enabled people all around the globe to take free, Ivy League-quality classes from the world’s top universities. Geared primarily toward college students, lifelong learners or continuing professional education, MOOC courses have reached as many as 10 million people worldwide in just a few short years.

The MOOC model is fairly simple. As the acronym suggests, courses are accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time as long as they have access to a computer and the Internet. Taught using a combination of methods, MOOCs typically include video tutorials, interactive exercises and discussion forums, allowing students all over the world to interact.

Now, MOOCs are now reaching beyond higher education to include courses geared toward secondary education students. In September, EdX, a non-profit MOOC consortium founded jointly by Harvard and MIT, announced it would offer MOOC courses for high school students. Other MOOC providers, such as Coursera, are also pursuing the secondary education market.

Why secondary education? In a word, demand, says Nancy Moss, director of communications for the Cambridge, Mass.-based EdX. Over the past few years, more than 150,000 of EdX’s estimated 3 million registered users have been high school students. This, she says, suggests that there are students out there whose needs are not being met.
MOOCs Aim To Fill Knowledge Gaps In Secondary Education
Filling a gap
According to Moss, high school students take EdX’s courses for a variety of reasons, from enhancing their schoolwork to getting a leg up on college. MOOCs can help fill a need – for instance, reaching students that may not have access to certain courses due to budget cuts or simply due to where the student lives.

“Maybe they don’t have access to AP (advanced placement) curriculum, and they may want to take the exam. AP coursework has been cut in many school districts,” Moss said.

Another reason to gear MOOC content toward high school students is the college readiness gap. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, as many as 60 percent of first-year college students are not ready for postsecondary studies. MOOCs can help students close that gap by providing coursework that prepares students for what’s expected when they get to college.

To develop its high school curriculum, EdX is working with higher education partners, such as Boston University and Rice University, as well as top high schools including St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, a private college prep academy in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and Weston High School in Weston, Mass., for course development. The company currently offers 27 secondary education courses online.
MOOCs with a mission
According to Dr. Janeen Graham, a sense of mission is what led St. Margaret’s Episcopal School to become involved in teaching MOOCs through EdX. Graham, the school’s academic dean, says they have a strong mission of service to others and saw MOOCs as a chance to extend that service to students worldwide. The school offers three MOOCs, including courses in psychology, Spanish language and culture and “The Road to Selective College Admission,” aimed at helping students navigate the mysteries of college admission.

Although St. Margaret’s has yet to determine whether it will allow its students to take MOOCs for credit, Graham has encouraged her students to sign up. With more than 2,000 enrolled in her MOOC from 45 different countries, she’s hoping her students will have the opportunity to learn from new people.

“My 18 students in AP Psychology just would never have that global reach or have that opportunity. The opportunity to find out what someone from Morocco thinks about the nature/nurture debate is going to be fascinating,” she said.

For now, MOOCs are not replacing regular courses in either higher or secondary education. They are still a supplementary resource, both for the students and educators. And because they’re not required, getting through them does require a certain amount of motivation and dedication that not every student has. Nevertheless, Graham believes that MOOCs do provide a necessary service that can suit all sorts of learners.

“When I think about people who don’t have access to this type of coursework in their schools, I think it’s just an incredible opportunity to reach people that we would never be able to reach,” she said.

Lisa Melsted is a writer and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area. A tech industry veteran with turns in public relations, market research and journalism, she writes about enterprise and B2B technologies and moonlights as a food and profile writer.

Source : Forbes Samsung BusinessVoice

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