GAPSA develops online platform

Students and instructors are developing an online platform similar to a MOOC.

Taylor Nachtigal

As the nature of higher education evolves from traditional classrooms to online, a group of graduate and professional students want to ensure the University of Minnesota follows the trend.

Some students and instructors are working with the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly to develop an online platform for graduate and professional students to pool their knowledge and expertise to address common, University-wide problems.

The website will work similarly to a MOOC, or massive open online course, and serve as a virtual learning platform that allows people to connect anytime to explore shared interests or solve common problems.

“The nature of knowledge is changing,” said Christiane Reilly, a Ph.D. student who is consulting project leaders. “Younger generations are used to solving problems by looking up information on the Internet when they have a problem.”

The platform may work like an online forum or online course, but project leaders aren’t yet sure of the specifics.

Alfonso Sintjago, a Ph.D. candidate studying learning technology and GAPSA president-elect, is leading the project and said he hopes the website will launch this summer.

For Sintjago, it’s most important that users drive the content and development in the direction they want.

The problem with many potential hosts for the project, Reilly said, is that administrators — not students — control content.

Given where education trends are headed, open access to learning is necessary in today’s learning environment, said Angelica Pazurek, a teaching specialist working on the project.

“Actually putting the users, the students, into the seat of becoming not just consumers of knowledge, but producers of knowledge — it’s a huge paradigm shift,” Reilly said.

Once project leaders decide on a platform for their idea, the first issue set to be addressed is how to increase diversity on campus, Sintjago said.

Once the project goes live, it will include readings and videos of presentations and panelists to facilitate learning and discussion.

Sintjago said it will benefit experts from a variety of fields to have a central place to share ideas.

“We need more than one circle to talk about diversity,” he said. “There may not be ‘a’ solution.”

Because the platform will exist solely online, like typical MOOCs, it will be free — something Sintjago said is a common draw for prospective users.

Though the platform will allow academics to connect with one another, the open-content model is not without flaws, said computer science professor Joseph Konstan.

He said user-guided education platforms present issues with program accreditation.

Sintjago said he doesn’t know how academics and the University will respond. He also acknowledged that credibility issues exist in online education — there often isn’t a tangible way to certify people for their work, as opposed to accredited degrees that traditional colleges give out.

Still, Sintjago and other project backers assert the importance of staying current with higher education changes by creating an online platform where students control learning.

“The change needs to be addressed by encouraging much more interaction between students,” Reilly said.