Harvard, one of the world’s most influential universities, is moving on to Spocs – which stands for small private online courses. Nothing to do with Star Trek and sombre Vulcans, but plenty to do with ambitions “to boldly go”.
Enter the Spoc. And the clue is in the “small, private” part of the name. These courses are still free and delivered through the internet, but access is restricted to much smaller numbers, tens or hundreds, rather than tens of thousands.
It means a selection process for applicants and the capacity for a more customised experience. Looking further down the track, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine fees and course credits.
Harvard and University of California, Berkeley, part of the edX online alliance with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are among the universities beginning to experiment with this more refined model.
“The Mooc represents just the first version of what we can do with online education,” says Prof Lue. And this first version has now been overtaken. “We’re already in a post-Mooc era.”
Prof Lue argues that the significance of Spocs is that online learning is now moving beyond trying to replicate classroom courses and is trying to produce something that is more flexible and more effective.
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Two of the new HarvardX offerings are “small, private, online courses” called SPOCs. One of the offerings, GSD1.1x: “The Architectural Imaginary,” is open only to incoming Design School students but may be opened up to the broader public at a later date, according to Vale. The class will run as a module this summer to prepare incoming students for coursework in an on-campus component of the class this fall.
HarvardX’s first SPOC, a Law School course titled HLS1x: “Copyright,” debuted in January. Law School professor William W. Fisher, III, and his teaching staff chose from 4,100 applicants worldwide to form the 500-student online class. There are plans to offer “Copyright” again online in 2014, according to Nathaniel Levy, project manager at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society who helped develop the course.