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WVU joins online partnership

West Virginia University is diving into the online education boom in higher education, through a partnership with a national provider of massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

WVU announced today a new partnership with Coursera, a for-profit education technology company that partners with universities to develop the large, free online classes.

Typically, the courses are open to anyone with an Internet connection for no college credit. The first MOOCs were formed as experiments about a year ago at some of the country's most elite institutions, but have quickly caught on in the mainstream of higher education - they're being adopted more and more at public universities.

WVU has dabbled in MOOCs. Its first was a class on communication technology and its relationship to society, and was developed in-house and held over four weeks in February.

That class was just a pilot project, but school officials say an increasing number of professors have come to the administration asking about expanding WVU's MOOC offerings.

Last week WVU announced it would create a new division of "academic innovation" that will be dedicated to implementing new technologies at the university, signaling the school's efforts to fortify its high-tech offerings. That division, along with Coursera and any faculty who come on board, will develop the new MOOCs.

Sue Day-Perroots, who will head up the new division when it is formed this summer, said that MOOCs, with their mission to open up education to the masses, are a good fit for a land grant institution like WVU.

"Part of our mission says that we are supposed to provide access to education," she said. "And MOOCs are a great way to provide access to education."

Nationally, the move to MOOCs has not been without controversy. Many aren't convinced the trend is good for students and the sheer speed of the MOOC movement is raising concerns on campus.

In recent weeks, faculty at Duke and Amherst have voted against elements of expanding MOOCs on their campuses, and 58 Harvard faculty last week called for a new university committee to consider ethical issues related to Harvard's participation in edX, a MOOC-producing consortium led by Harvard and MIT.

Some California faculty have also protested plans in the state higher education system to use MOOCs to supplement teaching on campus.

WVU is one of 10 large public universities to announce new partnerships with Coursera today: the State University of New York, the Tennessee Board of Regents, University of Colorado, University of Houston System, University of Kentucky, University of Nebraska, University of New Mexico, University System of Georgia and the University of Tennessee also announced partnerships.

The plans vary widely among schools. Some institutions will focus on improving prep courses for students coming into the system, others on enrolled students both online and on-campus, and still others will develop their own MOOCs to teach students at other institutions in their states.

At WVU, Day-Perroots said they're still not sure what the school's new MOOCs will look like. At first, WVU will likely focus on open, non-credit courses for students who aren't enrolled -  though it could explore options for giving credit for the courses in the future, or a slew of other new formats that are being tried at schools across the country.

The first courses will likely be in some of the areas that the school has identified for  potential for growth and return on the University's investment - those are subjects like radio astronomy, public health and 21st Century skills.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.



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