Vanderbilt Turns Away From Peers’ Bid To Monetize Massive Online Courses

Cynthia Cyrus, Vandy's Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, has helped spearhead the school's foray into free online classes taken by thousands of people. Via Vanderbilt University

Cynthia Cyrus, Vandy’s Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, has helped spearhead the school’s foray into free online classes taken by thousands of people. Via Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University is among several elite colleges to walk away this spring from an effort to monetize the new frontier of MOOCs – massive open online courses. 

For the last year Vandy has been among a growing number of schools making classes available online for free to thousands of people.  But this spring the school opted out of a group working with the company 2U, which will offer such classes for credit, and for money.   Duke and Rochester also said no.

Associate Provost Cynthia Cyrus says Vanderbilt was uneasy with charging full tuition for the courses, and wants to be protective of its brand.  Cyrus emphasizes Vandy has made great strides since last summer, when it began its foray into putting more course materials online with Coursera.

“At Vanderbilt, we’ve taken to talking about MOOC years, which are sort of like dog years – they just go faster.”

The school is now trading pieces of its online courses with other colleges, and conducting research to assess what works educationally, including whether or how online materials work better when mixed with live instruction.

“How you teach, what you teach, what works, what doesn’t work is suddenly one of the hot-button topics, where if you’d said to me three years ago it’s going to be all the rage to talk about how we teach undergraduates, I would’ve scratched my head and wondered what you were thinking.”

Cyrus notes the school is hiring more people to expand its online offerings.  Many backers hope such technology will one day make college more accessible – and affordable.


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