Masses Sign Up For Vandy’s Free Online Courses, Few Finish – But Hey, It’s Still A Lot of People

Vanderbilt's partner in MOOCs, or massive open online courses, is Coursera, an outgrowth from Stanford partnering with numerous universities. (Credit Trammell Hudson / flickr)
Vanderbilt’s partner in MOOCs, or massive open online courses, is Coursera, an outgrowth from Stanford partnering with numerous universities. (Credit Trammell Hudson / flickr)

In the last year, tens of thousands of people have signed up for free online classes from Vanderbilt University, although only a small sliver finish a whole course.  Still, the school says it’s forging ahead with experimenting in what may be the future of college, kicking off another free online course Monday.

The class is about video games, and how they’re reshaping storytelling, similar to the proliferation of movies a hundred years ago.  The seven-week syllabus bounces from an online game based on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to Elizabethan poetry, to something gamers will be familiar with called ‘pwning’ – which is pronounced like ‘owning’ with a p- in front, and which means dominating.

This is the fourth free massive online course Vandy’s offered since it began partnering with the company Coursera last year, and it’s still not clear exactly how such classes will earn students any credit, or the school any money.  Still, 190 thousand people signed up for Vandy’s first three classes.  That tally includes curious people who never planned to take the final exam – reporters, for instance.

So it’s not surprising only about half even bothered to watch a video or take a quiz.  And only a small percentage finished the whole course – about 12 thousand.  Critics say that’s crazy-high attrition, but glass-half-full advocates argue it the other way: That’s 12 thousand people who took a college class, just because.

Daniel Potter

Daniel Potter thinks the term 'general assignment' is a bland way to say he's brought back national reports from places like inside a man-made cave built to save endangered bats, a room where police store confiscated meth labs, and from the Grand Ole Opry while hundreds of evacuated hotel guests snoozed in the pews. A native of upstate Alabama, Dan enjoys rock-climbing and vegetarian dining.
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