Thursday, April 30, 2015

Moocs being assessed

Those interested in this topic might find the following interesting (here). It is now the received wisdom that MOOCs were hyped when started and their promise, if there is any, was largely in the minds of those that stood to benefit most. The Gates foundation is now funding research on this topic (which, given the monetary source may or may not be "objective," pardon my cynicism) so that we can find out what MOOCs are good for, if anything.

It appears that the one group that they do service are "non-traditional" students and the problem appears to be keeping their attention.

The report names student engagement as a prominent theme. Many students enrolled in MOOCs are nontraditional, so making sure that they are engaged and able to succeed in such a course is even more important. Figuring out how to maintain students’ interest during an online course when “a distraction is literally just a click away” is another important element, Mr. Siemens said.

So putting things on line has some potential drawbacks that researchers are now addressing. Note too the audience, "non-traditional" students. It seems that for the regular college crowd MOOCs may not be on the agenda. Effectively, MOOCs are now filling the role that correspondence courses filled in the pre-digital era. And it seems that they are finding problems analogous to those that such courses traditionally encounter; keeping the student's attention focused on the material. This does not strike me as very surprising. It was never clear to me why presenting the material on line on a screen should make it more engaging than doing so in a book on your lap. At any rate, the discussion goes on, this time with much less hype.


  1. The "Miracles of Human Language" MOOC that Marc van Oostendorp is doing right now is actually pretty amazing. There is nowhere near the depth or breadth of coverage that one would get from a full-semester intro course, but the number of interviews with other linguists (including Chomsky), informants on typologically different and unrelated languages, etc. make it really neat. There are over 40,000 students ranging at least from ages 14-80. As a "teaser" for the field I think it's fantastic.

  2. Thank you, Bridget! It was indeed our intention to make it into a 'teaser': it is different from popularizing, and more like an introductory course (but a short one, and one that does not require a lot of background knowledge).

    The one thing that has impressed me most were indeed the "non traditional" students: people from all over the world and of a very wide age range (the youngest I found was 11, the oldest 87) who for all kinds of reasons would never be able to follow 'real' courses, and I really like that we can bring them in contact with these kinds of stuff.

    I am not very worried by the fact that we are not keeping everybody's attention. Probably at most 20-25% of our 45,000 participants will pass the final exam, but (i) that is still 10,000 people, and (ii) the others may also at least have learnt something.

    So, indeed, MOOCs are *not* a replacement of university education; they can do things which books cannot do (show talking examples, etc.), and there is one way in which they potentially CAN keep people's attention for longer: by building a community of participants, which we have tried to do both on the course pages Coursera provides and in a Facebook group. Sharing your enthusiasm, confusion, disappointments, etc., with other participants, makes the experience different from having a book on your lap.

  3. Coursera and Udacity offer Specialization programs: a package of 3-9 courses to get a specialization certificate. Since employers out there care more about what you can do with your knowledge rather than where you have studied, this keeps many people focused on what they study through MOOC. They also offer many online platforms to exchange info, ask and answer questions. In that sense, MOOCs are pretty active to keep students focused, I believe.

    -Atakan Ince

  4. Right aboyt that Many students enrolled in MOOCs are nontraditional. Massive Open Online Course are easy to done.
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