MOOCs and the spread of knowledge

Free online courses will help the University fulfill its mission as a public resource of knowledge.

Daily Editorial Board

The University of Minnesota announced last week that it would partner with Coursera to offer massive open online courses or MOOCs.

Though the University has hinted at its interest in MOOCs for some time, now five courses taught by University faculty will be available on the site, which has 2.7 million registered users.

The University, along with 29 other schools that announced the partnership last week, is catching up to elite research schools that have delivered popular MOOCs via Coursera and other sites.

While many are critical of the impact MOOCs will have on the future of higher education and debate the effectiveness of remote, technology-assisted education, the University is right to step in this direction — but not for the reasons one might think.

One of the three prongs of the University’s mission statement is to make the “knowledge and resources created and preserved at the University accessible to the citizens of the state, the nation, and the world.”

In serving this mission, the University maintains several public programs, including its Extension office, which is devoted to public education and access to University knowledge, especially in areas of agriculture, food, economics and the environment.

Because faculty members volunteered to create MOOCs, this initiative will not interfere with the University’s research and development and teaching missions.

As a public institution, the University has an obligation to serve more than just the enrolled student body. MOOCs are another way for the University to fulfill its public service and outreach mission by making knowledge available to the public through this new medium.