Online Course Assessment:
By Robert Hernandez Kajiwara
Done in partial fulfillment of the Ph.D. in History degree at Liberty University
The idea of an online course might be intimidating for many who are accustomed to the traditional classroom setting. For others, particularly millennials, online courses might be much more tolerable, or even preferable. Unfortunately the quality of online courses can very tremendously depending on the institution, and even within institutions themselves. With more and more students taking online classes full-time, part-time, and in hybrid courses, online courses in academia are here to stay. Thus, teachers and administrators should seriously study online education, and examining online offerings from top universities can provide intriguing insight.
I have personally taken several online courses through Harvard edX. In 2012 Harvard partnered with MIT to found edX, a Massive Online Open Enrollment (MOOE) platform. Through edX Harvard offers a variety of different courses in many fields of study, providing quality education from a highly prestigious university in an online format. MOOE’s tend to be very popular due to their public accessibility, as well as due to their free or low-cost.
One of the primary drawbacks about MOOE’s, however, is that they have a very high drop-out rate. Harvard has attempted to remedy this by offering a paid version of classes, requiring a one-time fee in exchange for permanent access to the entirety of the course content, as well as access to the course’s graded assessments. By doing this, students who are serious about completing the course have more incentive and accessibility to do so, while students who might just be casually browsing courses still have access to the majority of the content, such as the videos and readings.
As expected, the quality of Harvard’s MOOE offerings is quite high, and is actually better than many of the for-credit online course programs offered by other colleges and universities. Dr. Peter K. Bol, the Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilization, and Vice Provost for Advances in Learning, stated that the edX platform offers more content than Harvard’s in-class counterpart (though it should be noted that more content does not necessarily correlate to quality of learning). They offer a variety of different literature, both primary and secondary sources, for study, as well as professionally made video lectures. The curriculum are well-designed and demonstrate clear and thoughtful planning on the part of the faculty.
Harvard also makes good use of technology in this online format. For video lectures, Harvard transcribes the lecture in a sidebar that plays automatically in synchronicity with the video. This is extremely helpful to students who may be hearing-impaired or who may prefer reading.
The primary benefits of Harvard’s MOOE courses are ease of access, public availability, and free or low-cost tuition. Harvard has successfully worked to reduce some of the most prominent negative issues with the MOOE format. However, the last remaining significant problem in my opinion is that there is no degree offering in this form. Optional certificates, for a fee, are nice, but do not hold nearly the same weight or education as a full degree program.
In addition to edX, Harvard offers a variety of certificates, bachelors, and masters degrees in their extension school that can be completed mostly, but not entirely, online. Harvard requires at least three on-campus visits prior to completion of the degree, and offers select courses, such as weekend intensives, that meet the on-campus requirement. The degrees carry the full weight and prestige of any other Harvard degree. As such, the tuition for these degrees is quite higher than for the edX courses. The academic requirements are also much more rigorous, as is to be expected.
Overall Harvard offers a variety of high-quality online courses in both the MOOE and the Extension School format. For degrees they have declined to offer anything that can be done entirely online, but their hybrid format and careful planning still makes it easy and accessible for a committed scholar to complete from anywhere in the world. Harvard is generally considered to be one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and their online offerings live up to that title. Any teacher or administrator involved in online education would do well to study Harvard’s methods.