UNM is venturing into the frontier of Massive Online Open Courses with a new offering on Coursera, a social entrepreneurship company that assists universities to developing online classes. Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Associate Provost Greg Heileman has spent the fall working with UNM’s Extended Learning Department to record video lessons for his course on Web Application Architectures.

“I’ve taught this course before, but it took a lot of time to rewrite the instruction and complete the videos,” he said. The video lessons are short – about six minutes, but packed with information, and all the normal pauses for questions have been eliminated. Heileman estimates the video lessons cover one third to one half the amount of information a student would get during a normal UNM course.

He’s thinking of requiring the Coursera course, which is free, to be a prerequisite to the class he will teach next fall. Heileman said he’s spent a great deal of time talking with the course developers at Coursera trying to get a feel for how students will use the course. 

He is also hiring an assistant to help him handle the expected student load.  Anyone, anywhere in the world can take the course online for free.  He won’t know how many students he is teaching until the class is in progress, but Coursera says he can expect as many as 5,000 students to sign up for instruction. Students who are interested in taking the course must sign up through the Coursera web site.

Heileman looks at his course as an experiment.  He says he is interested in teaching a MOOC, but also thinks this form of learning may evolve into some kind of hybrid course with recorded lectures and actual class time to help students work out concepts.

The Provost’s office has agreed to fund a few courses each year, while Extended Learning is ready to assist faculty members who want to try teaching the online courses. Heileman says he will receive additional pay if another university picks up the course for use in its curriculum.  Faculty compensation is a major question for universities that do MOOCS and Extended Learning administrators are working with the faculty senate to complete a standard contract for faculty members who want to teach the courses.

So are MOOCs a trendy experiment or the wave of the future for universities like UNM?  Heileman says that’s a question no one at the university can answer, yet.