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Harvard Plans to Boldly Go With 'spocs'

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Actor Leonard Nimoy as Spock in Star Trek the original series.

Harvard University is moving to offer small private online courses, or SPOCs.

Credit: Vampyre Fangs

Harvard University is moving beyond massive open online courses (MOOCs) to small private online courses (SPOCs).

Like MOOCs, SPOCs are offered for free over the Internet, but registration is limited to tens or maybe hundreds of students, rather than the tens of thousands that can enroll in a MOOC. SPOCs have a selection process for applicants and the ability to tailor the course experience. Fees and course credits for SPOCs could emerge in the future.

Transitioning online education to more flexible and sophisticated formats is an "almost inevitable evolution," says Harvard professor Robert Lue. "The MOOC represents just the first version of what we can do with online education," he says. "We're already in a post-MOOC era."

However, Harvard will continue to offer MOOCs, along with SPOCs and traditional classroom-based courses.

SPOCs will offer smaller class sizes that will increase student engagement and allow more thorough assessments, as well as the possibility of improved certification. Universities cannot afford to ignore online learning, as MOOCs have already raised questions about the benefits of physically being on campus and in the classroom, Lue says.

"Institutions that sit back and watch, they may be in trouble," he says. "One can imagine a large institution where there isn't much difference between online and classroom--and then you'd be silly not to realize there's a problem."

From BBC News
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