Digital courses will change the face of higher education. And that is why the university must invest in this area, argued rector Martin Kropff at the Dies Natalis celebration on 10 March.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are university courses where the information is provided in a series of short films on the Internet. Leading lecturers present the course material, and students’ understanding is tested using questions in quiz form. Their homework is often checked by the computer and fellow students, who also discuss the lessons in online forums. This approach exploits a number of trends in higher education, Kropff told his audience.
It is not just Wageningen where the number of students is growing; worldwide, student numbers will increase from 100 million in 2000 to 400 million in 2030. That increasing demand for education raises the question of how universities can maintain both accessibility and the quality of the education they offer, in particular in a world in which everyone communicates online with their mobile phones and where international cooperation and competition in education is increasing. Universities will only be able to do this if students can study without restrictions as to time and place, said Kropff.
One form of distance learning is the MOOCs, the free online courses that have already attracted seven million participants in the past few years. So far these courses have cost universities money, which is why most MOOCs have been developed by rich American universities. But Kropff says this trend does show that education will increasingly be provided via online knowledge platforms. He thinks that Wageningen therefore needs to invest in this kind of education, even if the business model not yet clear. In addition, he says MOOCs are a good way of recruiting students and of cooperating with international partners.
According to the rector, Wageningen is well equipped to develop this kind of distance learning as the quality of its education is excellent. Furthermore, Wageningen focuses on multidisciplinary education aimed at resolving complex social issues. Kropff thinks that increasing numbers of students will only do part of their degree on campus, for example the group assignments, but will follow the lectures online from wherever they are in the world.