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CalArts Joins the Free Online Course Experiment

by Allison Meier on March 15, 2013

Kari Reardon's Art MFA Thesis Show, "WINNING" at CalArts (via CalArts Facebook page)

Kari Reardon’s Art MFA Thesis Show, “WINNING” at CalArts (via CalArts Facebook page)

A high profile arts institution recently joined the spiking number of free online classes, with the California Institute of the Arts teaming up with Coursera. The rapidly expanding offerer of MOOCs, or “massive open online courses,” is only a year old, but since it started in 2012 it’s grown from partnering with three higher education institutions to now over 60. With their brief, mushroom cloud of a life, it will still take time for the MOOCs to prove to be game changers in the structure of higher education, or if they’ll just fade as a fad.

Coursera, started by two Stanford computer science professors, isn’t the only free MOOC provider out there, nor is it the first, but lately they’ve been one of the most active in amassing new partnerships. With CalArts, they’re offering fall 2013 art classes with a heavy tech lean, such as Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers, Creating Site-Specific Dance and Performance Works, and Introduction to Programming for Digital Artists.

You don’t get a degree for Coursera coursework as of now, just a “Statement of Accomplishment,” although some colleges like the University of Washington have offered a course credit in exchange for a fee. However, a new bill in California introduced in the State Senate this week could mandate that the public colleges and universities in the state would have to give credit to online courses approved by faculty, which would include the MOOCs like those from CalArts at Coursera. It’s still a long way from getting a whole degree online through a MOOC, but it’s a step closer.

Of course, a ready question is, how in the world does Coursera make money to do all this? According to TechCrunch, they’ve raised $22 million in venture capital, but an actual sustaining model has yet to be reached, aside from initiatives like a recruiting service and fee-based “verified certificates.” Currently, Coursera doesn’t give the universities money, and the universities don’t give Coursera money, meaning they each incur their respective fees, with the benefit for the universities seen as a much wider audience of students. But the price for that audience for the universities can be high, with Inside Higher Ed reporting that the University of Washington spends between $15,000 to $30,000 to create a MOOC course, money which covers the salaries of the professor, videographers, and the staff who manage the course. Without fees, these free MOOCs do seem unsustainable, even if they are great PR for higher education institutions where an actual degree can be prohibitively expensive. Coursera is now linked into the system, now they have to figure out an enduring way to make it mutually beneficent for them and the universities.

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  • Jamie DeAngelo

    As a Coursera fan and user, I’m ever hopeful. The range in course quality is pretty dramatic and the peer-editing system is a little frustrating at times, but it is such a pleasure to have open-source access to these resources.

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