Jacob Garber: Online courses increase prestige

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Jacob Garber

Correction appended

The University has been toying with the idea of offering free online education in the form of massive open online courses for months.

Administrators told The Hatchet in February that they had no plans to offer MOOCs. In July, GW was considering it.

Still, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Stephen Ehrmann recently told me “there has been no decision about whether or not to offer MOOCs.”

Why the hesitation?

Ehrmann said the University would not develop MOOCs until it could identify specific fields in which the University could lead and find faculty who were interested in offering their time.

But the University is looking at the prospect of MOOCs from the wrong perspective. Administrators should consider how these courses could boost the University’s prestige. Like GW’s new rebranding campaign, MOOCs are an investment that can change the perception of the University. The difference, of course, is MOOCs would not receive the flack that the expensive rebranding campaign has.

Stanford professors launched Coursera in April 2012, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University founded edX in May 2012. Since then, 16 other universities have followed in their footsteps and joined online platforms.

Institutions like the University of Virginia and the University of Washington have pursued online education, because they feel their brands have benefited simply by being associated with schools like Harvard and MIT. And by investing in MOOCs, GW could also ride on those Ivy League coattails.

On Coursera alone, more than 1 million users would see GW’s name alongside these other institutions. This would give GW exposure to a huge number of people who might not have otherwise heard of GW.

Ehrmann told me he doubted GW’s image would be affected if it were put on the same online platform with these elite universities.

But the University of Washington’s experience with MOOCs suggests otherwise.

The school, which has an endowment of $2.15 billion, slightly above GW’s $1.3 billion, has added online offerings through Coursera in addition to its 17 degree and 38 certificate programs taught online.

David Szatmary, the school’s vice provost of educational outreach, said that the university added online education through Coursera to strengthen its reputation as an innovator in higher education.

And universities with even larger endowments, like UVA, also attest to the benefits to their schools’ brands as a result of adding online education.

UVA has released four online courses in the past two months. UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan told UVA Today that increasing online education would enhance its brand and give more students access to an education.

Coursera would be the place for GW to begin. Sixteen universities are already listed on the site, and as others follow suit, GW will lose the opportunity to become an MOOC front-runner.

Online education could provide a global platform.

Jacob Garber, a sophomore majoring in English, is a Hatchet columnist.

This column was updated Sept. 10, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the University of Washington added 17 degree and 38 online certificate programs through Coursera. In fact, those courses were already offered online through the school, and the Coursera offerings were in addition to those classes

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