ExtensionEngine Blog

Going MOOC: Getting Faculty Buy In

So your institution is thinking of offering some MOOCs. Great idea! There are a number of benefits to “going MOOC,” not the least of which is what Massive Open Online Courses can do for an institution’s branding. It doesn’t hurt your reputation one bit to have your courses listed alongside those of Harvard, Stanford and MIT.

designing online courses higher education

At the same time, the listing helps bring your college’s or university’s offerings to the attention of future students and donors.

However, between the green light and the actual launch are a plethora of questions to be answered: What course platform should we use? What courses should we offer? And how to get we get our faculty to buy into this initiative?

We could help you answer the first question, the second one depends on your institution, and we can offer a number of suggestions for the third: How do you get faculty buy-in, especially when attitudes seem to range from interested skepticism to outright hostility?

Resistance is normal, if not futile, given the immense interest in and popularity of MOOCs, particularly among the business community. Still, it’s tremendously helpful to bring faculty on board before the launch.

In our experience, some of the faculty resistance is a direct result of misunderstandings about MOOCs, their purpose, their importance to the institution, and the benefits to faculty. The beauty of misunderstandings is that they can generally be cleared up by facts. Let’s take a look at a few of these.

Misunderstanding #1: I’m concerned that launching MOOCs is the first step to replacing my classroom course with online learning.

Fact: Classrooms and MOOCs aren’t competing for the same students. Harvard and MIT working papers revealed that the typical MOOC participant is not a 19-year-old college student. Rather, MOOC enrollees tend to be a bit older and almost a third of already have college degrees. Seventy-two percent log in from outside the United States. None of these are likely to enroll in a classroom course.

Additionally, in analyzing these papers and conducting additional interviews, the research firm Bersin by Deloitte came to the conclusion that most participants are not after college credit. Rather, enrollees tend to view only portions of a course, perhaps for review or perhaps to learn more about a particular area of interest. Only 10 percent of enrollees actually complete the course.

Misunderstanding #2: MOOCs are not as effective as what I do in the classroom.

Fact: The jury is still out, although they’re deliberating. Until recently, A/B comparisons of MOOC learning vs. classroom learning were sadly lacking. But in October, MIT researchers released a study indicating that students who completed an introductory physics MOOC learned as much as students who completed the same course in the classroom. Although they started at different levels, they learned to the same degree regardless of background and previous exposure to math and physics (although those with some background had better final results than those without). While more studies of this type need to be done, the results are encouraging to MOOC enthusiasts and counter the notion that MOOCs cannot teach.

Misunderstanding #3: MOOCs could replace faculty (i.e., “replace me”).

Facts: This possibility is unlikely to unfold in the foreseeable future. There will still be a need for traditional classrooms at traditional institutions, just as online shopping hasn’t killed the big box store.

It’s worth pointing out that online education is not a new phenomenon. It has quietly coexisted with classroom courses for over twenty years. It wasn’t until major universities made it massive and open (free) that it created a splash and visionaries started predicting a major disruption to higher education.


A great example of coexistence is Arizona State University, a major research institution that offers over 90 separate entirely online degree programs. Even so, with over 65,000 on-campus students, ASU does not seem to be hurting for students any more than Wal-Mart is hurting for shoppers because of Amazon’s online presence.

In fact, a large proportion of MOOCs are not in any way competitive with degree track courses. The possible exceptions are the x-series courses (and similar) in which students can earn certificates. Even here, however, the statistics regarding participant demographics and motivation apply — most enrollees would not have appeared in traditional classrooms anyway.

Finally, MOOCs do not design themselves. Degreed faculty are essential as subject matter experts, designers, and presenters. Their expertise and CVs lend credibility to the MOOCs they are associated with.

Misunderstanding #4: An institution’s decision to offers MOOCs does not benefit the faculty.

Fact: There are several direct benefits to faculty members. First of all, the graphics, animation, and collaboration that are an inherent part of MOOC design can enhance the traditional classroom when thoughtfully integrated into a course. Films and, later, video have enhanced classroom instruction since at least the 1940’s. The richness of today’s interactive media takes this to a new level, as does the degree of collaboration possible in an asynchronous online environment.

But wait, there’s more. Because participants hail from the general population and the courses aren’t necessarily on a degree track, MOOCs offer faculty an unprecedented opportunity to design courses that teach subject matter in innovative, creative and fun ways.

Consider the popular “cooking science” MOOCs as examples of a novel way to teach chemistry and heat physics. These courses are not easily offered in the classroom unless an institution has a test kitchen that seats thousands.

What have your faculty members always wanted to do but couldn’t? It might be possible in a MOOC.

A final benefit to faculty is that if MOOCs enhance the reputation of an institution, they also enhance the reputations of its faculty. This is especially true if *you* are the faculty member who designed that innovative MOOC everyone is talking about.