Should Students Take a Common Summer MOOC?

For many years, a substantial number of colleges have asked their incoming students to all read the same book as a part of student orientation. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Go Big Read program asked students last year to read “Radioactive: A Tale of Love and Fallout” by Lauren Redniss. And when I was a freshman in college at Truman State University, my common read was “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois.

While I enjoyed my common reading experience, I have to wonder if alternative methods could be used to heighten student engagement. The great amount of recent discussion about MOOCs (massively open online courses) leads me to think that a small number of innovative colleges should assign their students a common MOOC instead of a common book. While a MOOC may be more work than reading a book, it has the potential to better prepare students for their future college experiences.

A common MOOC should have the same properties of a successful common read. It must be accessible to the typical student, yet be challenging enough to stimulate discussion and get students acclimated to college-level coursework. It should also reach students across a large number of majors and interests. While colleges may want to develop their own MOOC for this purpose, here are a few courses which could stimulate interesting discussion:

Generating the Wealth of Nations

Maps and the Geospatial Revolution

TechniCity” (how cities are changing)

While I hold no great hopes that MOOCs will completely transform higher education, I think the technology can help at least some students. And a common summer MOOC may be one way to do so, assuming issues of Internet accessibility can be addressed.

Author: Robert

I am an a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

8 thoughts on “Should Students Take a Common Summer MOOC?”

  1. I think that well-designed MOOCs have the potential to help stimulate discussion among first-year students at least as well as a book. MOOCs also may be a way to expose talented high school students attending rural schools without advanced courses to college-level material, which is useful in light of the discussion around Hoxby et al’s recent works. But of course, these hypotheses need to be rigorously evaluated.

  2. The host college/univ will have to design and conduct a rigorous eval because most K-12 districts, esp. rural schools, have no staff to do so or staff who are not trained to do so. Good idea, though.

    1. Yes, Emily…our conversations about MOOCs have been very fruitful. If you do end up taking a MOOC, I would love to have you write something about it.

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