Sunday, July 14, 2013

The MOOC debate reaches calmer waters

ripples by lanier67, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License by lanier67

“I don’t see the MOOC that I teach as a threat to traditional universities or to the discipline, rather just the opposite. It’s the sort of thing a public university should be doing: broadcasting its knowledge.”

This quote from Dr. Matt McGarrity of the University of Washington in an article on e-Learning Industry, University of Washington instructor dives into MOOC spotlight, sums up what I believe is the essence of the MOOC movement. Most universities are funded by public money, at least to some extent, and all have policies for outreach activities and involvement with the society they serve. Allowing the world access to the course material they use is part of this outreach and a way of showing the taxpayers what they're paying for. As I've written many times I don't think that MOOCs are so much a threat to education as an extremely welcome complement, offering new groups of students access to new paths for learning. These courses can have varying degrees of pedagogical innovation, some will work and others will flop, but they will make higher education more accessible than ever before, whether or not any credits are available from them.

Another quote in this interview with McGarrity that I liked was this one about the MOOC dropout rate:

"To some degree, so much of the talk about dropout rate misinterprets the initial enrollment figure, right? The threshold one must cross to sign up for the course is a button click. So they’re talking about the button click, which may not be a genuine enrollment. It’s like Facebook accounts—maybe there are so many million, but a lot of them are empty. So, the question is of those enrollments, is active students from Week 1 to Week 10. That’s probably a better way to look at it."

We should be looking at how many students completed the course and focus on that rather than those who "dropped out". Many of the dropouts probably never even dropped in: they simple clicked on the enroll button and forgot about it. If 1,000 people complete the course that's pretty impressive and what happened to the other 4,000 is probably not so relevant. It certainly can't be compared with dropping out of a campus course that has cost you a lot of money and is a major life commitment - something has to be seriously wrong to drop out of a 4-year degree program.

It's good to read more and more realistic and thoughtful views on the whole MOOC movement. Maybe we're moving out of the initial hype phase.

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