MOOCs are supposed to be free, but it appears that for universities and professors, that is hardly the case. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have so far proven to be a huge financial commitment for institutions and according to recent studies, the preparation can be very time consuming for the educators who build them.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has been reporting that MOOCs have been quite expensive for universities. MOOC provider EdX apparently charges $250,000 per course, and then another $50,000 every time the course is offered (April 29, 2013). EdX also keeps part of the revenue generated by the profits of each course. To use the “Coursera platform”, another MOOC provider, The New York Times reported that universities would have to pay $8 per student enrolled, and $30-$60 per student to use content developed at a different school (May 30, 2013). In a class of 1,000+ students, those numbers really add up. Such prices show that creating a MOOC is a large and risky investment for any educational institution. As a result, many people, such as writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education Jason Mittell, believe that these investments will only be possible for elite institutions.
On March 20, 2013, an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a survey taken by MOOC professors. In the survey, the vast majority of these professors expressed how teaching a MOOC “took a lot out of them.” Most spent over one-hundred hours on the project before it even started, and devoted 8-10 hours to running it during the week. Duke University professor Cathy Davidson has been blogging about her own preparation for teaching an online course. She says that the time and labor involved is so great, that she doubts how any professor would “be crazy enough to do this”, let alone for free. Although she gets paid a $10,000 stipend for the course, Davidson says that all of it is being used for “teaching assistants, technical assistants, and equipment.”
While many are jumping on the MOOC bandwagon now because it’s new and exciting, these commitments may cause it to get old in a hurry. With such high costs in money, time, and labor, it appears that MOOCs may not be worth the effort or risk. Universities must be willing to pay both for the course itself, and a higher compensation for the professors that teach them. Without this, the much talked about “MOOC revolution” will become nothing more than a moment in history.
This post is part of a series on “Making History Online” that involves an examination of open online learning in the field of history funded by the Mellon Digital Humanties grant. Students and faculty at the House Divided Project at Dickinson College are collaborating this summer on a new open, online course called, “Understanding Lincoln,” taught by Prof. Matthew Pinsker and covering ways to teach Abraham Lincoln’s legacy using close readings of his most important writings. This new type of online course represents a unique partnership between Dickinson College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The course is available for both graduate credit and free participation. Registration for the course closes on Friday, July 19, 2013. For more information, go to https://www.gilderlehrman.org/programs-exhibitions/understanding-lincoln-graduate-course