From MOOCs to MOCs?

In January 2013, The Innovative Instructor wrote a post titled The ABCs of MOOCs, which attempted to provide an overview to the emerging and rapidly evolving phenomenon of Massive Open Online Courses familiarly known as MOOCs. We have come a long way in a short time in regards to MOOCs. This post examines the evolution of the MOOC trend.

In an article by Laura Pappano dated November 2, 2012, the New York Times declared that 2012 was The Year of the MOOC. Within a few months during that year several companies had been formed by university partnerships (Coursera, edX, Udacity); University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan had been fired (and reinstated) in part due to her reluctance to rush onto the MOOC train (see: the New York Times, Anatomy of a Campus Coup by Andrew Rice); and Thomas Friedman, among others, had written about MOOCs “disrupting” the future of university education. Some pundits declared that brick and mortar universities were seeing their end of days.

But a year later, Clayton M. Christensen, a professor of business administration at Harvard, and coiner of the phrase “disruptive innovation”, presented a more nuanced view in an article co-written with Michael Horn – Innovation Imperative: Change Everything Online Education as an Agent of Transformation (New York Times, November 1, 2013).  “But for MOOCs to really fulfill their disruptive potential, they must be built into low-cost programs with certification of skills of value to employers. So far, only a few traditional universities have incorporated MOOCs into their curriculum, and only to supplement what they are already doing — like ‘flipping the classroom,’ with lectures watched from home.” And “As concepts and skills are taught more effectively online, it’s unlikely that face-to-face interaction will cease to matter.”

Certainly the promise of MOOCs – free education for the masses – seemed to herald an exciting new wave. Yet many of us in support roles in higher education questioned whether the reality would live up to the hype. Articles lauding the new revolution were short on economic analysis. MOOCs are being offered without cost to students, but are not without cost to develop. Getting a handle on the financial side can be difficult as production costs are often hidden. These include: faculty time for course preparation and delivery, videotaping and editing costs, time spent to “scrub” content for copyright issues, and faculty and/or staff monitoring time when the course is running. How many institutions can support large scale production of free courses with no monetary return on investment? For that matter, if Harvard or Stanford is already offering an introduction to computer science MOOC, does it make sense for Anystate University to do the same?

Moreover, the MOOC environment does not necessarily bring out the best in pedagogical practices. A lecture watched online may loosely equate with a face-to-face lecture in a large course, but neither experience is likely to top a small, active-learning-centered classroom experience.

It is not surprising that two recent articles took on a different tone. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Steve Kolowich wrote (April 14, 2014) an article titled 2014: The Year the Media Stopped Caring About MOOCs?. Kolowich identifies 2013 as the year of the MOOC backlash, and noted that “Coursera’s new chief executive, the former Yale University president Richard C. Levin, last month reiterated that the company’s MOOCs should be thought of as ‘additive to what universities are doing, not disruptive.’”

Meanwhile, Inside Higher Ed reported on April 17, 2014 that Udacity plans to begin charging students for MOOC course completion certificates, cutting MOOCs to MOCs (Massive Online Courses).

Diagram showing Gartner Hype Cycles

Gartner Hype Cycles. Jeremy Kemp:

Gartner, Inc., a leading information technology research and advisory company uses a method called Hype Cycles to analyze emerging technologies. [See illustration above] Five phases in a technology life cycle are identified: 1) the technology trigger 2) the peak of inflated expectations 3) the trough of disillusionment 4) the slope of enlightenment 5) the plateau of productivity. It would appear from the recent press that MOOCs are experiencing the crash into the trough of disillusionment. It will be interesting to see a year from now if there is an upward trend towards enlightenment.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Jeremykemp at en.wikipedia

2013 GSI Symposium Breakout Session 5: Challenges and Rewards of Teaching in a MOOC

A Report from the Trenches

We’re continuing with our reports from the JHU Gateway Sciences Initiative (GSI) 2nd Annual Symposium on Excellence in Teaching and Learning in the Sciences.  Our final report is on the session “Challenges and Rewards of Teaching in a MOOC” presented by Brian Caffo, PhD Associate Professor of Biostatistics, Bloomberg School of Public Health; Kevin Frick, PhD, Professor of Health Policy and Management, Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Ira Gooding, OpenCourseWare Coordinator, Bloomberg School of Public Health.

This breakout session followed Daphne Koller’s (PhD, Co-founder of Coursera and Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University) keynote address: The Online Revolution: Education for Everyone. [Click on the link to see a video-cast of her talk.]

Sample Menu of JHSPH Coursera CoursesSince JHU began working with Coursera in July 2012, The Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) has developed and offered eight massive open online courses (MOOCs) on the Coursera platform. During this session, Ira Gooding, Educational Resource Coordinator in the JHSPH Center for Teaching and Learning, presented an overview of the School’s work so far, including enrollment information, completion rates, and practical insights about the development of MOOCs.

Gooding was joined by two MOOC instructors: Kevin Frick, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Brian Caffo, Professor of Biostatistics. Drs. Frick and Caffo both shared details of their experiences teaching thousands of students via the MOOC model. During the question and answer portion, the panel was joined by two other MOOC instructors: Karen Charron of the Department of International Health and Roger Peng of the Department of Biostatistics. All agreed that MOOCs are a powerful tool for broadening access to high-quality educational experiences that can serve as a supplement or a gateway to more formal and traditional academic pursuits.

Many thanks to Ira Gooding for providing The Innovative Instructor with the notes from this session.

For more information on massive open online courses, see The Innovative Instructor post from January 8, 2013: The ABCs of MOOCS.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Ira Gooding

The ABCs of MOOCs

If you haven’t heard about MOOCs, you’ve probably been trapped in your office and the classroom for the past six months. Even if you have been hearing talk about MOOCs, you may be wondering what one is and why they are suddenly so much in the press.The Innovative Instructor offers this post on MOOC basics.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. The two fundamental components are open access and the ability to support large scale enrollments. These courses are typically pitched to college level learning without offering credit. In some cases, certification is available (usually at a small cost); several universities are exploring credit options through fee-based MOOC offerings.

MOOCs are new and the landscape is rapidly changing. Although the companies offering these courses point to enrollments in the millions, the average course completion rate is under 10%. An article in The New York Times this week examines the current status of MOOCs and suggests what the future might hold. It is accompanied by a short video that summarizes the start-up period and features clips of faculty teaching MOOCs.

The concept behind MOOCs – offering greater and affordable access to higher education – isn’t new.  Previous models for open access to course materials include the OpenCourseWare initiative started at MIT.  The OCW movement has international participation of hundreds of institutions including the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The Khan Academy, created by MIT and Harvard graduate Salman Kahn in 2005, was another inspiration for MOOCs. The first MOOC was launched at Stanford in 2011 when Sebastian Thrun, a computer science professor, offered an online open-access course on artificial intelligence. 160,000 students from 190 countries enrolled. In early 2012 he founded Udacity to offer MOOCs on a larger scale. Currently the three biggest players in the MOOC field are Udacity, Coursera, and edX.

Course design varies from MOOC to MOOC, and learner experience may differ considerably. In some instances participants watch professors who have video-recorded their face-to-face class lectures and posted them online, accompanied by tests to confirm student comprehension. Other courses may provide short explanatory modules interspersed with quizzes. Some MOOCs make use of discussion boards and other collaborative activities. The faculty member who teaches the course is not likely to grade assigned papers and projects. With the large enrollment in these courses, assignments that can’t be computer-scored tend to be evaluated by peer review.  In those cases, participants serve as both reviewers and submitters, an exercise that can be viewed as a skill acquisition for students.

The appeal of MOOCs is obvious. Want to learn the basics of computer programming? Didn’t have time to take a course on American poetry as an undergraduate? Looking to boost specific knowledge or skills for college, graduate school, or a job? MOOCs offer a low-stakes opportunity to do so. If the teaching method in one course doesn’t match your learning style, it’s easy to move on to another offering. In fact, the best way to learn more about MOOCs is to sign up for a course.

Coursera has 211 course offerings starting in January 2013, with courses running from 4 to 16 weeks. Topics range from Genes and the Human Condition (University of Maryland) to Introduction to Improvisation (Berklee College of Music), including 8 offerings from JHU’s School of Public Health.

edX is showing 23 course offerings as of this posting, with titles such as The Ancient Greek Hero (Harvard), The Challenges of Global Poverty (MIT), and Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Computation (Berkeley).

Udacity is now offering 19 courses in computer science and math from Introduction to Physics to an advanced Applied Cryptography.  All of the courses are open, which means you can sign up any time and complete the course at your own pace without problem set or exam deadlines.

How will MOOCs impact higher education and how will they affect student learning opportunities? These questions were examined in a recent Educause Review article, Online Educational Delivery Models: A Descriptive View.  Here you will find a comprehensive overview of online educational delivery models (including MOOCs) characterized by modality and by method of course design.

Looking for more on MOOCs? Following are links to articles that will provide general information, discussions of the advantages and disadvantages of MOOCs, and examinations of the economics and politics of this so-called “disruptive technology.”

University Affairs/Affaires universitaires, July 31, 2012, Following the herd, or joining the merry MOOCscapades of higher-ed bloggers, Melonie Fullick.  An examination of disruptive innovation, the politics of higher education reform, and the economics of MOOCs.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 13, 2012, Why Online Education Won’t Replace College – Yet, David Youngberg. MOOCs may have some fundamental problems, but we still need to pay attention.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 13, 2012, Don’t Confuse Technology with College Teaching, Pamela Hieronymi.  An opinion piece discussing what educators do and why MOOCs are not a panacea.

Inside Higher Ed, August 31, 2012, Elitism, Equality and MOOCs, Ryan Craig. Accessibility versus elitism: are MOOCs being used to address the real problem in higher education?

The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 3, 2012, Teaching to the World from Central New Jersey, Mitchell Duneier. A thought provoking commentary from a Princeton sociology professor who taught a course in a MOOC platform in spring 2012.

Inside Higher Ed, September 7, 2012, MOOCing on Site, Steve Kolowich. New site-based testing will strengthen credentialing for MOOCs.

Time, October 18, 2012, College is Dead. Long Live College! Amanda Ripley. The author examines the question of whether MOOCs can offer greater accessibility to a college education. Who will benefit and what does this mean for elite (and other) institutions of higher learning?

Inside Higher Ed, January 9, 2013. Paying for Proof, Paul Fain. Lengthy article on monetizing MOOCs, with considerable attention to the new Coursera “pay for proof” verification initiative.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: MOOC Wordle created by Macie Hall