By Jim Shimabukuro
As MOOCs proliferate, an inevitable byproduct is MOOC review services such as Class Central and CourseTalk.1 The problem, however, is that their results probably have limited generalizability. In an interview a few days ago, Justin Reich2 reminds us that “the people who respond to surveys about their experience are different than people who take the courses broadly.”3
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Kadenze is a new MOOC platform for art courses. Stanford and Princeton are listed among their partners. “According to a company co-founder, Perry R. Cook, an emeritus professor at Princeton, the platform will be ‘multimedia rich’ and allow students to create online portfolios, upload music files and scanned art, watch videos, and participate in discussion forums.”4 The list of features is impressive, but the need for packaged services such as these highlights the glaring weakness of online instruction in general — the lack of media savvy among most professors in the academic disciplines.
In the current best practice model, online courses are divided into two dimensions: content and delivery. The professor provides the content, and the instructional technology department provides the delivery. This approach is a stopgap, and ultimately unsustainable. It’s the equivalent of hiring a professor to produce content for a course and a second professor to deliver it. But it’s even worse considering it involves IT staff and resources. The cost quickly approaches the prohibitive, and the vast majority of cash-strapped colleges will either back off or provide low-maintenance CMS platforms, which guarantee cookie-cutter courses that are uniformly bland and unimaginative.
With a bit of experience with popular web media that’s already available at no extra cost, art professors could quickly determine that the Kadenze services aren’t necessary. Their students could use free blog services such as WordPress to create online portfolios. They could save art work in PDF or JPG and post them in their e-portfolios. They could record their own music and videos, upload them to YouTube, and embed them in their e-portfolios.
Professors could, on their own, do the same. They could set up their courses in blogs, using a static style that simulates a webpage. They could record their own lectures with the simple video features built into nearly all digital cameras and smartphones. They could create instructional presentations with a video production app. All of these media could then be uploaded to YouTube and embedded in their course blogs.
For interactivity, each blog post provides an attached discussion forum. CMSs provide forums for class and small-group discussions.
But the catch is that professors must be willing to learn how to do all of this. For many if not most, the learning curve may be too steep. Thus, we can’t blame the IT staff for settling on CMSs or simply taking over the task of designing, delivering, and maintaining media-rich online courses. A new generation of professors, however, will soon be stepping in to close the media-savvy gap. They’re the ones who have grown up shooting videos, with smartphones and digital cameras, and sharing them with friends in social networks and blogs. For them, a proprietary multimedia platform would be both unnecessary and restrictive.
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Sergio Ortega and his colleagues at ECO (E-learning, Communication, and Open-Data) are taking an interesting approach to MOOCs by creating a larger set that they’re calling Massive Mobile, Ubiquitous and Open Learning. In this umbrella category, MOOCs are a subset, with lots of room for competing MMUOL models.5
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This is from a year ago, but it’s still an interesting pictograph from “HarvardX and MITx: The First Year of Open Online Courses.”6 The stat that ought to jump out at us is the 72% figure for students registering from outside the U.S. Adds an exclamation point to the fact that MOOCs are disruptive — i.e., they attract a different population of students. Another is the 5.1% completion rate — not because it’s surprising but because it represents a lingering mindset that continues to compare MOOCs with traditional on-campus classes. The registered-to-completed ratio simply doesn’t make sense for open online courses. In fact, the graph makes it very clear that of the 841,687 students who registered, 34.8% never engaged, 55.8% only watched videos without participating, and 4.3% only explored the resources. In other words, 95% registered for reasons other than completion. Put another way, completion wasn’t a primary goal for the vast majority of those who registered.
1 Others in this category of MOOC aggregators: CourseBuffet. According to Prithiv Sassisegarane (email 6/20/15), “Courses that cover the same or similar material will have the same CourseBuffet subject and number. This enables you to know which courses are directly comparable.”
2 “Justin Reich is the Richard L. Menschel HarvardX Research Fellow, a Fellow at theBerkman Center for Internet and Society, and a lecturer in the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program” (Justin Reich, “Starting as a Research Fellow with HarvardX,” HarvardX, 4 June 2013).
3 In Mary Ellen McIntire’s “Students in Free Courses Study, but Not as Much as Most Students Do,” Chronicle of Higher Ed, 16 June 2015.
4 Meg Bernhard, “Art Schools Go MOOC, With a New Online Platform,” Wired Campus, 16 June 2015.
5 Sergio Ortega et al., E-learning, Communication, and Open-data: Massive Mobile, Ubiquitous and Open Learning, ECO, 31 July 2014.
6 “Nearly 75% Who Take Online Classes Are Outside US,” Boston Globe, 6 June 2014. (WebCite alternative)