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.


About Robert

I am an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. All opinions are my own.
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8 Responses to Should Students Take a Common Summer MOOC?

  1. Finally a state purpose for a prospective MOOC!

  2. Meant to say “stated” purpose for a prospective MOOC!

  3. Robert says:

    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.

  4. 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.

  5. This blog post sounds very familiar to me!

    • Robert says:

      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.

  6. Pingback: Should Students Take a Common Summer MOOC? | Ke...

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