Why Offer MOOCs and Free Online Courses? Alumni

why mooc

I was pleased to see a post on chronicle.com that focuses on one reason I have been promoting the idea that colleges should offer free online courses of any size: Alumni Engagement.

The article by Casey Fabris talks about a Colgate University course, "The Advent of the Atomic Bomb," taught by Karen Harpp. She plans to offer the course for a second time. It is technically not a MOOC because it is not "open" being that is available only to alumni.

They have found that although the atomic bomb doesn't have much resonance with today's traditionally-aged college students, it has a Baby Boomer appeal. 

Colgate's term for these offerings is that they are Fusion Courses. The courses are offered as in-person courses for Colgate students with an additional online component that brings in alumni.

This is Colgate's entry into free online courses of any type or size.

Professor Harpp must have seemed like a natural for this because she had already been alumni, including a few World War II veterans, involved in her course by including them in discussion boards. The Fusion Course pushes that further by involving them in a Twitter re-enactment, a timeline project, and videoconference calls.

I like that Colgate had set their enrollment goal at 238 students (the atomic mass of uranium) and ended up with 380 alumni. A second course on "Living Writers" had 800 participants that included about 678 alumni plus participants from the community and book clubs that were allowed to enroll.

Colgate is not the first to offer courses to alumni and many of the truly massive MOOCs with 100k+ participants probably had alumni enrolling in their alma mater's offerings.  Harvard University began offering such courses to graduates last year and the article notes that the University of Wisconsin at Madison plans to offer six courses.

These course offerings are a good way to have alumni and the local community connect to the campus and its current life. I have retired friends in North Carolina and Florida who regularly take courses and sit in on lectures face-to-face and online with their local colleges. The often mentioned and less often offered "lifelong learning" opportunities at colleges needs to increase.

More about the Colgate course at colgate.edu/alumni/atomic


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