News - March 27, 2014

A MOOC for you too?

Rob Goossens

Wageningen is going to branch out into Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), rector Martin Kropff announced recently. Distance education via the internet has the potential to bring in thousands of new students. But are they real students? What do we in Wageningen think of MOOCs?

Illustration: After all the hype about MOOCs in recent years, there are now a lot of critical takes on the new educational concept doing the rounds on the internet.

lena Andreou

Student of Biotechnology from Cyprus

‘A nice idea, although I am not sure whether it could be applied in my programme. We do a lot of experi­ments and practical assignments, which are difficult to do on the internet of course. But for other sub­jects such as social studies, it might be more feasible. You can also consider combinations: one semester you come to Wageningen, and the other you can work from home.’

Philippe Puylaert

Analyst and practicals supervisor at the Laboratory for Microbiology

‘Not a good plan. All the prognoses suggest that Wageningen University will have to deal with a formidable growth in student numbers over the next few years. We will have to pull out all the stops to cope with that without sacrificing quality. So why launch a completely new educational concept now, which will take up a lot of time and effort? It would be much more logical to start a project like that when times are hard. And no one has said, “here is a bag of money to implement it with”, so teaching staff will probably be asked to do it on the side. Perhaps our executives think teachers have time on their hands, in which case I have to disappoint them.

I also question whether Wageningen programmes are so suited to the MOOC format. There is quite simply a big practical component. Kropff suggested that distance edu­cation could be supplemented with six weeks of practicals per year here on campus, but I don’t think that is enough.’

Marco Malavasi

PhD Landscape Ecology

‘To be honest I think every university should at least experiment with MOOCs. Of course, an academy was traditionally a place to come together, discuss and share ideas. But times change: nowadays you can also meet people and exchange ideas on Facebook. I do think you should make use of the best teachers, and researchers with a reputation, otherwise students will soon drop out. Contact on the internet is much more erratic than when you are physically on the spot.
Would I advise friends in Italy to do a Wageningen course through a MOOC? If they don’t have much time and money, I would say: go for it. But if you can afford it you are better off coming to Wageningen. Overseas experience is always valuable.’

André Boon

Examining board secretary and former programme manager

‘I certainly think it is worth looking into this sort of development. Above all, I think MOOCs offer plenty of scope for collaborating with other universities internationally. I worked in South Africa myself, at the University of South Africa. There they were already experimenting then with the predecessors of MOOCS, and with very promising results. I don’t think it need be a problem that the Wageningen programmes have a lot of practical components. Not if you think innovatively enough. Why not rent laboratory facilities in Hong Kong for Asian MOOC students, for instance? You can staff them with Wageningen teachers. That is just one of the many possibilities.’

Lukáš Tuma

Erasmus student from the Czech Republic

‘Academic education is all about collaboration and discussion. For that you really need to come together in class. I have been in Wageningen a month now and I have already learned to think more critically. That is the value of going somewhere physically. That does not mean that I reject MOOCs, because I think they can be a useful addition. Especially when it comes to specialist subjects that fit well in your curriculum, it can be handy to follow a course without having to go to a university far away. But it should not be taken further than that, and I think the number of credits you can get for MOOCs should be lower.’

Annika Rösch

Student of Leisure & Environment, from Germany

‘MOOCs can be handy in your schedule, if you are very busy with other courses for instance. Then you can follow an internet lecture course in your spare time. But it wouldn’t suit me. Being obliged to go to lectures gives me the motivation I need. I don’t know whether I would secretly do other things if I was following an internet lecture. I think that’s the case with a lot of students, although maybe not everyone would admit it.’