Taking a cue from the popularity of massive multi-player online games, the American Council on Education will decide whether to give its stamp of approval to massive open online courses (MOOCs), a form of teaching that is gaining momentum among students and higher educational institutions.
Approval of MOOCs could bode particularly well for IT professionals seeking experts in big-data, virtualization, security, cloud, and other high-demand technologies, where graduation rates typically are below job openings. These free online courses, typically taught by top professors, are open to all via the Internet. More universities and colleges are offering courses in an array of topics from philosophy to chemistry and everything in between.
As Molly Corbett Broad, president of the council, told USA Today:
MOOCs are an intriguing, innovative new approach that holds much promise for engaging students across the country and around the world, as well as for helping colleges and universities broaden their reach. But as with any new approach, there are many questions about long-term potential, and ACE is eager to help answer them.
Next year, the council will work with faculty teams to examine content and the rigor of courses to determine whether they should receive college credit. This is a spin-off from Ace Credit, a division of the council that was created in 1974, to help adults earn credits for courses and exams they took outside traditional degree programs, according to USA Today.
Each educational institution would decide whether or not to follow the council's recommendation. Professor Dan Boneh of Stanford University, for example, offers cryptography via Coursera, a "social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free." Boneh's six-week course, which began November 5, includes written homework and programming labs, and included a discussion of deployed protocols, mistakes in existing systems, public key techniques, and encryption, according to his course description.
An as-yet unscheduled course by Barbara Endicott-Popovsky will tackle Information Security and Risk Management In Context, while Professor Hank Lucas is scheduled to address Surviving Disruptive Technologies during an April 2013 course. Coursera offers IT-related programs in artificial intelligence, robotics, and vision; programming and software engineering; systems, security, and networking; computer science theory; electrical and materials engineering; information, technology, and design; law; mathematics and statistics; data analysis; and scientific computing.
Competitor UDacity features many courses of interest to technology professionals, offering a handful of beginner courses, with an emphasis on intermediate and advanced programs in topics including Web development, software testing, programming languages, HTML5 game development, software debugging, building a startup, artificial intelligence, parallel programming, and applied cryptography. (You can also brush up on your humanities, too, if you'd like, perhaps taking a course in American poetry.)
For its part, edX -- formed by Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California, Berkeley -- offers classes including SaaS using Ruby on Rails, SaaS + Agile, foundations of computer graphics, introduction to computer science and programming, AI, and quantitative methods in clinical and public health research.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is funding the council's initiative, is also researching the impact of MOOCs to determine their impact on student learning, college attainment levels, and engaging adult learners.
Ideally, the council will allow educators to award credits to those students who attend and pass MOOCs. But even if that doesn't occur, IT professionals would be wise to review the courses available to them at these sites, especially those classes taught by professors from such highly regarded universities.
At a time when IT departments are expected to understand their organizations' business issues and CIOs increasingly vie for the same technological talent, it makes sense to promote the use of these highly esteemed, free educational tools within your departments anywhere in the world to educate staff and further increase the value of your teams.
— Alison Diana , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution