There is a confusion that thinks that the key to building good online courses is a software platform or software that can capture content off the web for inclusion in online courses to be built at a school. The notion is that if a school has a good, up-to-date platform and learning system, it can build good online courses, if it so desires. Many people think schools that have up-to-date technology platforms and content search capability should build online courses.
But this is an illusion – a technocratic illusion. Software is only a part of the task of building online courses — course design, course navigation, course interactivity with students, course elements (like quizzes), and adaptive learning functionality are equally important. Most schools don’t have faculty and IT staff who can collaborate to supply these crucial elements of online courses.
The result is that if a school essays to build its own online courses in a variety of subjects, it will get some good courses; many mediocre courses; and several bad courses. The effort and cost of improving mediocre and bad courses will be substantial. In that effort the school and its administrators will flounder, dealing with irate students (unhappy at poor quality courses), frustrated faculty members who are being asked to do what they cannot do, and stressed-out IT professionals who will be demanding more and more budget to provide the necessary course-development support. This is not a pretty picture.
Our conclusion is that the difficulties are substantial for schools in building a range of online courses using their own faculty and IT departments. A reasonable approach is for schools to support faculty members who want to develop online courses – if the proposed courses have the multiple characteristics of a good online course which we have described in the previous postings on this blog. But it is hazardous in terms of educational quality and institutional costs for schools to attempt to require faculty and IT staff to develop a full range of online courses.
As a practical matter, most schools will have only a few faculty members who will propose to build online courses and will build them successfully. This may change over the next decade as new faculty members with more sophisticated online technical experience arrive in many fields. But for the next several years, existing faculty are few who combine the technical familiarity and academic knowledge to build good online courses.
This means that most schools wishing to respond to the challenge of disruptive technological innovation in higher education must do so via either giving credit for MOOCS or by using professionally built on-line courses (the emerging analogue to the traditional textbook).