With backing from several technology investment firms, Stanford’s Venture Lab has been taken private and was relaunched today as NovoEd, an online learning startup that will offer a combination of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), professional courses, and for-credit courses in partnership with universities. NovoEd will begin by offering seven Stanford University courses to the general public, as well as 10 private courses to current Stanford students, the company announced.
Stanford has become a hotbed of activity in the MOOC field, with NovoEd now the third MOOC platform to emerge from the university during the past two years following Udacity and Coursera. According to Stanford professor and NovoEd founder Amin Saberi, this latest platform is unique in the way it facilitates and emphasizes interaction between students, encouraging the formation of groups and collaboration on projects. Students also rate the work and participation of others within their groups, creating a system of accountability to one’s peers.
Saberi and PhD student Farnaz Ronaghi originally developed the platform to help assistant professor and Morgenthaler Faculty Fellow Chuck Eesley, who wanted to expand his course on technology entrepreneurship online but was dissatisfied with other available MOOC options.
“He considered putting his course on another platform, but it wasn’t a good match pedagogically,” Saberi told LJ. “He didn’t have an appetite for designing multiple choice questions for teaching entrepreneurship.”
When the class was offered on the newly developed Venture Lab platform in March 2012, it attracted 80,000 students from more than 150 countries. As with most MOOCs, many of these students then disappeared. But the collaborative aspect of the course did help mitigate the dropout rate. More than 37,000 students continued the course long enough to start a collaborative project, and 10,000 students completed the course and their project.
“It’s actually a social experience,” Saberi said. “You’re working with a team, and some of these teammates are people that you have recruited or people you know. It makes you more committed. You feel like you have to get to the end.”
The sudden proliferation of MOOCs “highlights the mismatch between demand and supply for high-quality education…. But delivering content is just one part of education.”
Saberi expects MOOCs to continue playing a growing role in education, supplementing high school courses, getting students up to speed with pre-college remedial courses, supplementing undergraduate and graduate coursework, and offering professionals an option for continuing education. As NovoEd emerges as a new, private sector competitor in a burgeoning field, Saberi said that the company will initially focus on courses that have to be taught experientially, including courses on entrepreneurship, design, business management, sustainability, and creative writing.
The company’s business model relies on building partnerships with universities and creating courses that will be exclusive to their students. For now, public courses will be free, and Saberi encouraged librarians to view these courses as a programming resource for their patrons.
“These courses that we are offering—from mobile health without borders, to entrepreneurship, to creativity, to courses in computer science—I think [librarians] could be quite interested.… We put a lot of effort into creating very high quality videos and high quality team exercises, and they’re offered for free.”