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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Panel discusses new online opportunities for higher education learning

The University of Wisconsin-Madison campus hosted a discussion panel Friday to explore the way online courses and teaching technologies could help make higher education more accessible in the midst of rising university costs.

The panel, called “MOOCs, Flex Degrees, and DIY U: The Coming Transformation of Higher Education,” included Anya Kamenetz, author of the books “Generation Debt” and “DIY U;” Ray Cross, chancellor of UW Colleges; and Kris Olds, a UW-Madison geography professor.

The event follows UW-Madison’s announcement earlier this spring that it would pilot four Massive Open Online Courses over the course of the next year. MOOCs are free non-credit online classes open to anyone and are being considered by many universities to reach to a wider audience and lower the cost of education. The panel also discussed the UW Flex Degree program, which offers college credit for experience outside the traditional classroom.

Kamenetz presented figures, such as the 37 million Americans with some college education but no degree, to advocate for more open and accessible higher education options.

“This is a massive untapped resource of humanity,” Kamenetz said.

Kamenetz said by placing courses from public universities online, more qualified people would be able to obtain a degree and become more competitive in the job market.

The panelists said online learning options present a tool to combat rising university tuition rates and student debt.

Cross also said traditional students would reap the benefits of MOOCs because students could take courses on their own for no cost and learn at their own pace.

However, many attendees had questions about the quality of education presented by online courses versus in person instruction. Students raised concerns about online classes’ lack of personal interactions, such as experience with social and cultural diversity, as well as networking with faculty and alumni.

But Kamenetz said socialization can be designed into the online programs to combat the issue.

Still, Olds said MOOCs alone are not the answer to higher education reform.

“It’s supposed to be just one of many things we experiment with and attempt to learn from,” Olds stated. “There is no silver bullet to higher education reform.”

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