ARLINGTON — The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently gave the University of Texas at Arlington a $97,200 grant to host a conference where educators will discuss the effectiveness of a new trend in online learning.Researchers from across the U.S., Canada and Australia will talk about their research on how massive open online courses — or MOOCs — can personalize learning and change the dynamics of traditional forms of education.UT Arlington was selected to host MOOCs and Emerging Educational Models: Policy, Practice and Learning a Dec. 5-6 conference, in collaboration with the MOOC Research Initiative, which the foundation also funded, at Athabasca University in Canada.George Siemens, an expert in distance education who is behind the initiative, said UTA was picked as a host because of its strong presence in online learning.Online courses are gaining popularity in colleges and universities because of the outreach and flexibility, Siemens said. A massive open online class can have 200,000 global participants and offer up-to-date educational opportunities for people including students, doctors and even construction workers, he said.“The big distinction is that our need for learning has changed. Rarely can you enter a career right out of college and stay there the rest of your life. MOOCs, I think, are a reflection in which the learning needs of society of have changed and universities haven’t,” Siemens said. But according to a story in Time this month, though millions of students have signed up for massive open online courses at Stanford University and through an MIT-Harvard collaboration, 90 percent of people who sign up for mass online courses don’t finish.“So, 2012 was called ‘the year of the MOOC,’ and everybody was all up in arms about how can you do this, but no one ever talked about the learning outcomes and how they can be used. That’s what this conference is for,” said Laurel Mayo, director of the Learning Innovation Network Lab at UTA. The College of Nursing is the only program where a MOOC is offered at UT Arlington. The course, called Enhancing Patient Safety Through Interprofessional Collaborative Practice, is a part of the RN to BSN program. Mayo said results show 72-84 percent of working nurses who took the massive open online class at UTA were prepared to enroll in courses to further their education.
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST