LB2346.3 → MOOCs: Massive Opportunity?

THE MOOC! the movie
For the past 12-18 months or so, it seems as if MOOCs have been everywhere. Perhaps it's because I'm still earning in my MLIS and thus a bit more connected to the academic world right now, but it seems like I've heard so much about MOOCs in the past year or so. To the point where, yes, it's like they cannot be stopped. I've been thinking about them a lot lately and more and more often I find myself thinking about them in relation to the library world. I often think that libraries have a case of not looking before they jump - a case of diving into something that really doesn't make the big splash in the world that people thought it would. So are MOOCs really the Next Big Thing for libraries to tackle? And if so, just how the heck do libraries and librarians fit in?

So just what are these here MOOC things, anyway?

As per Wikipedia, a MOOC [pronounced mook] is a "massive open online course ... aimed at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web." MOOCs allow for users to freely access courses on a vast amount of topics without having to enroll in the actual university - but not actually earning credit for taking the class. Participation isn't mandatory, and really, outside of the initial sign-up for the course there is little recourse to doing anything with the course content at all. This is reflective in the very low completion rates that have been published in regards to MOOCs. The current major platforms include Coursera, Udacity, and EdX. Of these platforms, there are only three Canadian universities that are offering (or have offered in the past) courses in the MOOC format - McGill, the University of Toronto, and UBC.

With all this talk about the growing popularity of MOOCs, librarians - especially academic librarians -should start considering if there's a niche to stake a claim in the world of massive online courses. As indicated by Meredith Schwartz in Library Journal, academic libraries can be helpful in regards to copyright compliance (a biggie, no doubt) and the production and preservation of courses formatted in this way.

I think the biggest factor to consider, however, is the support of students. This can be difficult to deal with, however. As Schwartz notes in the aforementioned article, "can and should librarians support MOOC students the same way they do traditional students?" This seems ... rather unlikely at this point in time especially when considering that these online courses are international in scope and users. I think the best initial point of contribution for academic libraries in this situation is through information literacy and online tutorials. Tutorials and online learning resources are generally freely accessible through a library's website and are able to provide students with point-of-need information that can aid students in their process of learning. They are only helpful, though, if they can be found by users. Point-of-access links or embedded videos within course content can certainly help students take better advantage of their learning and the course itself. Just getting in the door to provide information literacy instruction in a traditional setting can be difficult, I fully realize, but in my opinion it seems like a productive way of serving a potentially new user-base.

{Image source: Wikipedia, created by Jeremy Kemp}

The concept of MOOCs are very much in their early stage, but are nearing the pinnacle of their hype ("peak of inflated expectations" on the Gartner Hype Cycle above). While I'm sure we're heading for a bit of drop-off, it does allow libraries and librarians to truly consider if they want to commit to this kind of niche service when (and if) a plateau arrives. MOOCs are relatively new, and the consideration of a library's role in them is even newer. As with any hot new thing, it requires a bit of time and contemplation. I do think there is a spot in the MOOC world for academic libraries, but it's going to take a bit more exploration and research to see where they can fit.

So is there a future for MOOCs and libraries to operate together? Is there a future for MOOCs at all?

{Image source: Guilia Forsythe, Flickr}

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