SPOCs Are MOOC Game Changers

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

They’re billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they’re being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard’s edX director, “We’re already in a post-Mooc era,”2 and SPOCs are the next generation. Considering the specs on SPOCs, however, SOOC3 — for selective open online course — may be a better fit for what appears to be a strong candidate for nextgen status. The problem with the moniker is that SPOCs aren’t always private.

Rob Lue, director of HarvardX.

Rob Lue, Harvard’s edX director.

For example, on the one hand, one of the two new HarvardX SPOCs this fall is GSD1.1x: The Architectural Imaginary. It is closed and private, and available “only to incoming Design School students.” However, it “may be opened up to the broader public at a later date.” On the other hand, HarvardX’s first SPOC, HLS1x: Copyright, in spring 2013, was open and selective: “Law School professor William W. Fisher, III, and his teaching staff chose from 4,100 applicants worldwide to form the 500-student online class.”4

SPOCs are MOOCs with fixed enrollments.5 However, beyond this general characteristic, there are two distinct types: private and selective. The former are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from traditional online courses. The real innovation is in the latter — selective. Anyone can apply, but acceptance is selective to limit enrollment. Thus, SOOC is probably a better fit for the Harvard-Berkeley nextgen MOOC.

SOOC numbers are smaller, but they’re still potentially massive in comparison to traditional onground courses. Coughlan describes them as “still free and delivered through the internet, but access is restricted to much smaller numbers, tens or hundreds, rather than tens of thousands.”

The selection factor in SOOCs is a game changer. Selectivity addresses three critical problems that have plagued MOOCs from day one: low levels of active participation, low retention rates, and variable student backgrounds. By limiting enrollment to selected students, SOOCs have the potential to become serious and effective online learning platforms that retain the MOOC’s magic of massive, open, and online.

As the ratio between staff and student numbers diverge, interaction remains an issue and reliance shifts to peer-to-peer support for feedback and guidance. However, when those with insufficient background knowledge, skills, and motivation are factored out, peer support systems may have a strong potential for success. Thus, selectivity may be the second generation answer to the MOOC’s current woes.

SOOCs open up a whole new dimension of possibilities for MOOCs. For example, a variation on selecting students up front may be to allow students to self-select in via performance in the first few weeks of a course. In other words, all students are accepted in the beginning, but only those who participate actively and at a given level — determined by staff or peers using rubrics — will be retained. This would amount to a two-stage enrollment process that’s initially open but becomes progressively selective in the first phase of the course.

Regardless of what they’re called — SPOCs, SOOCs, or something else — incorporating selectivity into the MOOC design is brilliant.
__________
1 “Robert Lue . . . Director Life Sciences Education and Professor of the Practice in the Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) department, directs Harvard’s edX – dubbed HarvardX” (Cathryn Delude, “edX, Transforming the Future of Education,” MCB, 11/29/12).

2 Sean Coughlan, “Harvard Plans to Boldly Go with ‘Spocs’,” BBC News, 9/24/13.

3 The acronym SOOC has been used by others, e.g., Heather M. Ross in “Instead of a MOOC, How About a SOOC?” (Educatus, 10/29/12) and Michael K. Clifford in “SOOC Challenges MOOC Muddle” (DreamDegree, 7/2/13). For Ross, it stood for small open online course; for Clifford, strategic open online courses.

4 Madeline R. Conway, “HarvardX’s New Fall Offerings to Include Two SPOCs,” Harvard Crimson, 6/21/13.

5 Dev A. Patel, “Law School Debuts First Online Course,” Harvard Crimson, 1/31/13.

22 Responses

  1. I agree that selectivity is a game-changer. Exactly how it’s handled with be important for success.

    Now that the game is changing, it should change even more. I think that MOOCs, SPOCs, or SOOCs tend to perpetuate the same old education model that’s been around for centuries. As a technologist (and scientist), I am biased toward the concept that technology will be the ultimate game-changer.

    Sure, it’s the enabler for the above alphabet soup, but it should be much more. While I’m not a fan of Alfred Bork’s vision of the computer tutor, I do see computers doing more than just delivering lectures and quizzes. Already, companies are promising adaptive learning software. See Nolan Bushnell’s latest technology gambit, BrainRush, for an example.

    As they say in infomercials, “But wait. There’s more.” Delivery over the Internet reduces costs of delivery and removes the necessity of those annoying license agreements. New platforms mean lower cost of entry and friendlier interfaces. Real interaction with learners now becomes possible. Whereas BrainRush has only shown its capability in learning Spanish, new software will provide experiences not available in classrooms. These will not be simulations for the most part.

    Simulations can be valuable in learning some concepts and have been used effectively for economics-oriented learning. They have been shown to aid in visualization of difficult concepts, although they haven’t been compared to the best narrated videos for that result.

    How far can true interactivity of Internet-based software take us? No one really knows, and few are busy finding out. This is an area that I have much interest in and hope to make a difference with.

  2. […] By Jim Shimabukuro Editor They're billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they're being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard's edX director, "We're already i…  […]

  3. […] They’re billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they’re being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue, Harvard’s edX director, “We’re already in a post-Mooc era,”2 and SPOCs are the next generation.  […]

  4. […] By Jim Shimabukuro Editor They're billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they're being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard's edX director, "We're already i…  […]

  5. […] SPOCs Are MOOC Game Changers (etcjournal.com) […]

  6. […] By Jim Shimabukuro Editor They're billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they're being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard's edX director, "We're already i…  […]

  7. […] By Jim Shimabukuro Editor They're billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they're being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard's edX director, "We're already i…  […]

  8. […] “ By Jim Shimabukuro Editor They're billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they're being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard's edX director, "We're already i…”  […]

  9. […] They're billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they're being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard's edX director, “We're already in a post-Mooc era,”2 and SPOCs are the next …  […]

  10. […] By Jim Shimabukuro Editor They're billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they're being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard's edX director, "We're already i…  […]

  11. […] By Jim Shimabukuro Editor They're billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they're being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard's edX director, "We're already i…  […]

  12. […] They’re billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they’re being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard’s edX director, “We’re already in a post-Mooc era,”2and SPOCs are the next generation. Considering the specs on SPOCs, however, SOOC3 — for selective open online course — may be a better fit for what appears to be a strong candidate for nextgen status. The problem with the moniker is that SPOCs aren’t always private.  […]

  13. […] By Jim Shimabukuro Editor They're billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they're being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard's edX director, "We're already i…  […]

  14. […] By Jim Shimabukuro Editor They're billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they're being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard's edX director, "We're already i…  […]

  15. Yet not noticeably popular in India, the concept of MOOC is fast spreading giving way to an all new stage in the field of education and learning. Found a very useful article in this context: http://prik.in/2013/09/moocs-a-fad-or-a-real-boom/

  16. […] SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses) or SOOCs (Selective Open Online Courses) take the online platform of MOOCs but then change the “Massive” and “Open” characteristics to something else completely. Jim Shimabukuro, editor of Educational Technology and Change online journal helps to define SPOCs and SOOCs: […]

  17. […] SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses) or SOOCs (Selective Open Online Courses) take the online platform of MOOCs but then change the “Massive” and/or “Open” characteristics to something else completely. Jim Shimabukuro, editor of Educational Technology and Change online journal helps to define SPOCs and SOOCs: […]

  18. […] By Jim Shimabukuro Editor They're billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they're being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard's edX director, "We're already i…  […]

  19. […] By Jim Shimabukuro Editor They're billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they're being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard's edX director, "We're already i…  […]

  20. […] a hablar de * MOOCs x SPOCs * Educación Abierta y OpenCon2014.org y OpenEd * Cambios para profesores y alumnos y la educación […]

  21. […] S., (2013). Harvard plans to boldly go with ‘Spocs’. Retrived January 27, 2014, from https://etcjournal.com/2013/09/26/spocs-are-mooc-game-changers/ Coursera, (n.d.). Coursera Programs. Retrieved from https://www.coursera.org/about/programs de […]

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