An admission to Princeton University is no longer necessary to enroll in its courses thanks to the recent explosion of massive open online courses, or MOOCs.
MOOCs are free online classes that are taught by professors from universities around the world. Enrollment in these classes varies from a couple hundred to a couple thousand students. The classes typically last several weeks, with a video lecture followed by discussions and assignments.
“You have this great captive audience that is really interested in what you have to present,” said Jennifer Taylor, the lead science teacher at the University of Miami Global Academy and the instructor for the MOOC on biology launched by the academy.
Sophomore Ana Gil used iTunes U, an application that features 500,000 free lectures, in high school to help improve her French.
“I used iTunes U in high school to reinforce what I was learning,” she said.
The term MOOC was coined in 2008, but the concept took off in 2012 when two professors at Stanford University launched Coursera, a website that offered free college classes.
According to an article reported in The New York Times, Coursera now has more than two million students enrolled and offers more than 200 classes in a wide range of topics.
While Coursera is the most popular, other schools and institutions are quickly following in its footsteps.
Alberto Cairo, a professor of graphic design in the School of Communication, taught a six-week MOOC this past fall semester titled introduction to infographics and data visualization. The class was sponsored by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
“It was an enriching experience,” he said. “The MOOC was tailored to journalists but we also had scientists, healthcare people, business people, PR people and others.”
Cairo had previously taught online classes for universities in Spain and the United States but not at the scale of a MOOC, which often has thousands of students.
“I want to do this as an experiment with the platform, with the experience,” Cairo said.
The course was so popular that the Knight Center had to cap enrollment at 5,000 students, and is now offering the course again.
At the end of November, UMGA launched the first MOOC geared specifically toward high school students. UMGA is the official online middle and high school of the University of Miami.
According to Craig Wilson, the head of UMGA, the class was a “rarity in the MOOC sphere” because the majority of MOOCs are at the college level and above.
The academy’s MOOC was a review for the SAT II biology subject test.
“I really wanted to provide something that would be of real service to the students,” Taylor said.
For Taylor, one of the main benefits of a MOOC is its ability to reach a wide audience.
“We are able to help a lot of students in this format,” she said. “They could get high quality prep from their home.”
Cairo believes that a MOOC can replace most introductory classes but is not an adequate substitute for a higher-level course.
“A MOOC can give you foundations but only that much,” he said.