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Community Colleges Try MOOCs in Blended Courses

Two community colleges in Massachusetts will be trying out a blended model of instruction that integrates online content from edX. edX is a non-profit organization founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology to offer massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

Funded by a million-dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bunker Hill and MassBay Community Colleges will offer an adapted version of the MITx 6.00x Introduction to Computer Science and Programming course at their respective campuses starting in spring 2013. The virtual courses offered through the MOOC site will be enhanced with in-class supporting materials and breakouts.

The class is intended for students with little or no prior programming experience who want to understand computational approaches to problem solving. The Gates Foundation grant is part of a $9 million investment announced in June 2012 to support "breakthrough learning models" in postsecondary education. The latest initiative has research components to it; participants want to examine the advantages of a blended classroom model that uses MOOC content.

"Our technology and innovative teaching methods have the potential to transform the way community college students learn, both in and out of the classroom," said Anant Agarwal, president of edX. "Our work with Bunker Hill and MassBay will enable us to work with other state institutions throughout the country to provide excellent educational opportunities on an ever-tightening budget."

Added John O'Donnell, president of MassBay, "Community college professors are both teachers and mentors to our students. The blended classroom model allows our professors greater one-to-one contact with our students, allowing for greater course content mastery and application."'

The Gates Foundation said that while MOOCs hold great promise, they are not without challenges. "And we are still discovering their full potential," noted Dan Greenstein, Gates director of postsecondary success. "We believe having diverse options for faculty and students that meet a wide array of learning needs and styles can enhance student engagement, improve educational outcomes, and increase college completion rates. We are eager to learn from and share the data that will be generated from these investments in MOOCs."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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