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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

MOOC's and their Place in Libraries

The most recent Chronicle of Higher Education special report covers the fascinating world of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). With a growing attention, participation, and curiosity about these offerings, we should start thinking about the role of MOOCs in our libraries.

Through interfaces like Coursera, EdX, and others, individuals now have access to a vast array of free, online courses offered by some of the top universities, including Harvard, MIT, Princeton, UC-Berkeley, and UVA. While these offerings are still somewhat amorphous, and do not currently offer credit, they do offer full-featured online class environments, including detailed assignments, and video-archived lectures and discussion forums. There is much still unsettled about these courses and how they will operate going forward, but there does seem to be a major groundswell for such offerings, from both the university perspective as well as the broader public.

Because there is such public interest in MOOCs, it is important for libraries to think about how such massive courses can support our principles. Just as collaborations between schools and libraries have proven to be so effective, collaborations between MOOCs and libraries also offer some great potentials. Of course, the relationship is a different one, though. One phenomena that has developed out of these MOOCS are local discussion groups forming and meeting in places like coffee-houses, libraries, etc. If the public library were to publicize this as a program it could further facilitate such peer connections, foster community, increase knowledge, and all cost the library very little. This also helps to overcome one of the major concerns over MOOCs, that they eliminate important face-to-face time.

There is also value in these courses, though, for teen service librarians. I can envision MOOC-inspired educational and informational programming for young adult users. Similar discussion groups based around a MOOC course or lecture are easy opportunities to capitalize on this popularity and hopefully bring teens into the library space. By offering college-style courses, certain teens who are seeking further enrichment have an environment to express that. Furthermore, from an informational perspective, what better way to give teens a sense of a college course, than to participate in a college course through MOOC? Just as teen programming often includes support for standardized test preparation, and college-seeking resources available in the library, they can also provide an environment to discuss a modeled college course through MOOCs.

I would be interested to hear of libraries that have started such programs and if they have found engagement with the public. Do you see other ways that MOOCs can be incorporated into libraries and the broader reading community?  While much is still unkown concerning MOOcs, with the budget challenges that so many libraries face, the wealth of free instruction available should be seen as a valuable resource going forward.

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