PCAST Considers Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Related Technologies in Higher Education

Today, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a letter report to the President about opportunities for advanced education technologies to improve educational outcomes and lower costs in higher education. The report, which builds on insights from PCAST members and additional outside experts, underscores the promise of new high-tech educational tools and advocates for continued experimentation in the education technology domain.

Access to higher education is an important pathway to success in almost any field. According to a report released earlier this month by the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center, over the past decade, tuition and fees at public, four-year colleges have risen 5.1% per year faster than the rate of inflation. This troubling trend puts a college education out of reach for many young people in America, especially those from middle-class or low-income families.

In its new report, PCAST explores the potential of recent advances in technology—with a focus on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)—to expand access to higher education opportunities and to address other challenges facing America’s higher education system.

PCAST recommends three key steps the Federal Government can take to derive maximum benefits from new education technologies:  

  • Let market forces decide which innovations in online teaching and learning are best.  PCAST discourages the premature imposition of standards and regulations that could impede the power of competitive market forces to spur innovation in the educational technology sector, and recommends that the Federal Government encourage innovation by letting the market for these technologies work.
  • Encourage accrediting bodies to be flexible in response to educational innovation. PCAST recommends that the Federal Government urge regional accrediting entities to be flexible in setting standards for online degrees to accommodate new pedagogical approaches and to avoid stunting the growth of a burgeoning industry.
  • Support research and the sharing of results on effective teaching and learning. PCAST advocates for more research into how technology can best foster learning for the broadest possible range of students, taking advantage of the data-collection features of new high-tech tools. PCAST also calls for the development of a national exchange mechanism for these data to accelerate research and enable adaptation of teaching to suit the various types of learners.

Going forward, PCAST plans to undertake a series of studies that will explore the potential of education information technology to enhance technical training and adult education, as well as K-12 and postsecondary education.

Read the full letter report here.

View an infographic about the report here.

Jim Gates, Craig Mundie, and Shirley Ann Jackson are members of PCAST and co-chairs of the PCAST Education Information Technology (EdIT) Working Group.

The PCAST EdIT Working Group also includes Richard Levin, Dan Schrag, Mark Gorenberg, Barbara Schaal, William Press, Chad Mirkin, and Susan Graham.

PCAST is an advisory group of the Nation’s leading scientists and engineers, appointed by the President to augment the science and tech­nology advice available to him from inside the White House and from cabinet departments and other Federal agencies. For more information about PCAST, please visit the PCAST website.

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