Tuesday, May 21, 2013

MOOC assortment

Chocolate Assortment by camknows, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by camknows

An assortment of MOOC thoughts inspired by this week's news feed.

There is some concern that many MOOCs are simply repositories of content in the form of lectures, reading and automatic tests and are not even really courses at all. This is the main point behind a post by Justin Reich, Is a MOOC a Textbook or a Course? Yes there's plenty of good material there and you can certainly learn a lot but you're largely on your own and the question is whether this can be considered a coherent course. I feel that such types of MOOC are perfectly valid as long as they don't pretend to be any more. It's vital that every MOOC describes clearly and upfront exactly what type of course it is (or not) and explains what types of study the student should expect. That can be one quality criterion; a clear statement on what's in store for the learner, the type of course, pedagogy and demands. All I've seen do this well but maybe we also need to know what the MOOC doesn't offer, just to avoid any misunderstanding.

Then there's the excellent report from the University of Edinburgh on the results of their first MOOCs under the Coursera banner. As Donald Clark reports on his blog, Report on 6 MOOCs turns up 10 surprises, students were clearly satisfied with the courses on offer with only 2% responding that the course did not meet their expectations. The report also confirms that very few MOOC students are motivated by certificates or credits and that attempts to provide a social aspect to the courses via course forums seldom work. Somehow the key element of the connectivist cMOOCs, networking and collaboration, do not translate well into the xMOOC paradigm (my wish for 2014 is that we find a new terminology for all this). Forums tend to be confusing, overcrowded and not always particularly interactive and most students seem to go it alone.

Maybe the reason for the cMOOCs succeeding in creating a dynamic learning network was that the participants were usually digitally literate academics who were already used to such an environment. The xMOOCs however attract a much wider range of participants, many of whom may not be used to online learning at all. Many sign up expecting a fairly traditional course and expecting it to be largely self-study even if the organisers might wish it to be otherwise.

So how do we get learners more involved in MOOCs and how can we foster collaboration and networking? Peer review may be the best bet and already some courses are use peer assessment as a powerful teaching and empowerment tool as well as providing meaningful feedback. Students need training to be able to offer meaningful feedback to each other and this can be built into the course at an early stage. If a set of assessment criteria for a task is given to students and they can practice on a test case first they can then assess each other. Studies indicate that peer assessment often comes very close to the grades given by experienced teachers, though the feedback may not be as insightful.

There's an article on MOOC News and Reviews,Massive MOOC Grading Problem – Stanford HCI Group Tackles Peer Assessment, that describes peer assessment in MOOCs and gives examples of how this can lift the learning experience of the MOOC to new levels, without involving faculty at all.

"I recently completed a two-week video production course on the Skillshare platform that used peer reviews. While the course was not for college credit and the only rubric used was to foster positive comments even while pointing out areas for improvement, knowing I was commenting on the work of my cohorts made me dive into the course more deeply. I felt a certain sense of fairness at play: I was going to make my project live up to the standard I set for others. In the end, I put in more hours reviewing comments and working on my projects than I spent watching the instructor’s videos and engaging in other assignments. The comments I received from my peers spurred me to rethink, revise and improve my project."

Finally this is exactly the approach being offered by NovoEd, yet another new kid on the MOOC block.
They divide students into groups of up to ten, based on location or interests and those groups then support and assess each other through the course. Creating group loyalty and a small scale study environment even in the vast sea of a MOOC could well be the road to follow.

Read more about NovoEd in an article on TechCrunch,Stanford’s NovoEd Brings Collaboration And Group Learning To MOOCs To Help Fight Attrition.

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