Have you heard the buzz about MOOCs? This acronym with the unfortunate sound-alike—“mook” is slang for “loser”—stands for Massive Open Online Course, of the sort offered for free by companies like Coursera. The popularity of MOOCs, with thousands of students logging on to a single class taught by leading professors from elite universities, has led to speculation about a future without campuses.
University officials have begun to fret openly about just such a possibility. A senior administrator at RIT recently spoke of how online education experts asked him how he could justify having so many buildings. He repeated this question to faculty to show how online education threatens the traditional model of post-secondary schooling, while urging them to come up with more online courses here.
The Department of Communication has long been involved in online education—in fact, we consider ourselves early adopters. We began offering a number of such courses in the early 1990s. And we’ll continue to look for ways to deliver some of our classes online, particularly at the graduate level.
We’ve even discussed—very tentatively—the notion of creating MOOCs of our own. Courses open to a worldwide classroom would allow us to connect with a huge audience, obviously, and help extend the DOC brand.
But for now we’re still focused on providing the sort of education students tell us they prefer: in small classes that meet a couple times a week in a room.
No question: we have to find ways to reverse the trend of rising costs. Campus buildings and all the stuff in them are expensive. And that expense is reflected in the cost of going to college, which according to the U.S. Department of Education has tripled since 1980, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Little wonder college student debt is at an all-time high, at just over $25 thousand.
But eliminate our campuses and the experience of “going away” to college, of spending a few years exploring ideas face-to-face with others in a real physical space? The phrase “brick-and-mortar” has entered our language as a necessary distinction with the online world. We now must refer to brick-and-mortar stores because we shop so often on the Internet. Is it possible that in our lifetimes we will begin referring to brick-and-mortar universities?