Hoping to expand the breadth of technology use inside and outside the classroom, the University has appointed Gautam Kaul as special counsel for digital education initiatives within the Office of the Provost.

According to a University press release, the appointment was made to ensure the University is “thinking strategically about educational technologies.”

Kaul currently serves as John C. and Sally S. Morley Professor of Finance at the Business School and has been at the University for nearly three decades.

Last year, Kaul taught an introductory finance class on Coursera, a massive open online course website that attracted roughly 133,000 registered students. Coursera is the University’s primary MOOC vehicle, but is just one of the avenues that Kaul will oversee in his work on digital education.

Kaul earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1985 and has served on several technology-related committees during his time at Michigan. He is currently managing director of the Social Venture Fund and serves on the advisory board of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.

There are currently seven University faculty members who have composed courses to be used on Coursera, with more planned for the future.

Dan Russell, one of Google’s top research scientists, told the Daily last week that while MOOCs are very important as a new forum for education, they are also limited in many ways.

“MOOCs are an incredibly handy vehicle for packaging up material that can be taught effectively in this style,” Russell said. “Having said that, not all educational material fits into this format equally well.”

Performance studies such as music or theater complicate the matter, but Russell said he believes new technologies will arise to satiate the need to advance these disciplines.

“You will start to see the integration of different sorts of real-time interaction technologies in a sort of collaborative sense and in an individual one-on-one sense that will allow us to evolve in ways that will allow this stuff to happen,” Russell said.

However, MOOCs also stand as a potential threat to the University’s revenue. Russell added that while the fear is that MOOCs will deteriorate the need for universities, the institutions retain an “experience that is difficult to reproduce” in an online platform.

Russell also noted that the use of MOOCs is still in the experimental phase, and many factors are unknown, such as how they will be funded and whether free MOOCs will prove to be viable against premium, paid versions.

At the September meeting of the University’s Board of Regents, several members expressed concerns about providing the online courses for free in light of a perennially difficult budget situation. University Vice Provost for Academic and Budgetary Affairs Martha Pollack told the regents that while the University is currently offering online courses for free of charge, it could begin charging for professional and continuing-education courses.

Kaul was not immediately available for comment.

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