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What You Need to Know About MOOCs

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Watch How Free Online Courses Are Changing Traditional Education on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

For those still trying to piece together all the different definitions and scenarios of a MOOC (massive open online courses), this PBS Newshour segment presents a comprehensive overview of the evolution of this phenomenon.

From the financial angle, MOOC startups are still trying to figure out how to make money. Udacity is getting revenue from several companies like Google to provide specialized courses. Coursera is charging potential employers for providing names of high-scoring students.

Sebastian Thrun of Udacity, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng of Coursera, students, and other professors who question the wisdom of these classes weigh in.


Student Tracy Lippincott's perspective on teacher-student connection:
"The thing that I really miss is actually personal contact with the professor. I like to be able to get personalized advice from the person who's in charge, and maybe just a little of like a thumbs-up, you know, just a little bit of positive reinforcement."

Sebastian Thrun on his view of lecturing:
"It's not my lecturing that changes the student, but it's the student exercise. So our courses feel very much like video games, where you're being bombarded with exercise after exercise after exercise. That's very different from the way I teach at Stanford, where I'm much more in a lecturing mode."

Stanford professor Susan Holmes:
"I don't think that you can give a Stanford education online, in the same way as I don't think that Facebook gives you a social life."

Coursera, which is seeking authority to give college credit for their courses (as opposed to just certification), is working with a company called ProctorU to verify student identity and participation. Correspondent Spencer Michels demonstrates in this video how online testing would work, and how the system they've devised is meant to prevent -- or at least curtails -- cheating.