MOOCs Experiencing an Identity Crisis

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

The University of Hong Kong,1 following the popular flip trend, is taking tentative first steps toward incorporating MOOCs into their on-campus courses. (See my earlier article on blended MOOCs.) Like its counterparts in the U.S., HKU’s MOOCs are closed for their on-campus students but simultaneously open for outsiders. In other words, they remain tethered to traditional courses for F2F students and free for distant students.

Noteworthy is HKU’s discovery that MOOC forums, unlike online forums attached to onground classes, “are extremely lively.” One of the professors attributes this disparity to the comfort of anonymity and is looking into extending the anonymity option to on-campus students.

Another explanation may be that F2F meetings simply render online forums moot. Off-campus MOOC students, lacking this option, turn to the forums for their sole means of interaction.

Yet another explanation is that the open end of MOOCs is disruptive, attracting a completely different population of students. For example, HKU MOOCs — dubbed HKUx to reflect its association with edX — attracted 10,000 to 12,000 “students from 173 countries,” and “more than 10 per cent were over 50 years old, and the median age was 29.” This population, although varying widely in characteristics, shares a common problem that sets them apart: They’re unable, for whatever reason, to attend F2F classes. For want of a better term, they are nontraditional students.

The implication is that HKUx and similar MOOCs are both closed and open at the same time, serving two distinct populations with very different purposes.

In the coming months and years, it’ll be interesting to see if HKUx professors will realize that, from the perspective of on-campus students, their MOOCs are essentially blended courses. It is only from the perspective of distant students that they appear to be MOOCs.

The fact that two very different populations can coexist in MOOCs opens up a lot of possibilities. First and foremost is that the success of MOOC practices for nontraditionals could gradually loosen the tether to F2F classes for traditionals, transforming blended courses into true MOOCs or, at the least, completely online courses. The primary obstacle to this scenario is the fear that interactions inevitably suffer in online forums. The success of HKU’s MOOC forums, however, belies this fear.

Another possibility is that tradition will outweigh the potential advantages of MOOCs and keep them anchored to on-campus classrooms, sustaining the blended model for who knows how long.

In the end, traditional students will probably tip the scale away from blended to MOOC when they realize that online learning is just as if not better than F2F for a number of reasons, including the freedom of anytime-anywhere engagement. When — and not if — this happens, the longstanding policy of withholding college credit for MOOC courses will be on the line.

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1Victor Wang, “How MOOCs helped University of Hong Kong apply e-learning tools on campus,” South China Morning Post, 20 July 2015.

Digital Storytelling for Social Change

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Zanizibar, like a number of developing countries, sees English as one of the keys to increased economic development, in their case through tourism. However, sometimes the question has to be asked: At what cost? One group of high school students in Zanzibar turned to technology to answer that question.



In “Teens Make Film in Broken English to Explain Why They’ll Fail English,”1 Gregory Warner at NPR reported on Present Tense,2 a short film in which three high school students use digital storytelling to examine whether all classes, such as science, math, social studies, etc., should be taught only in English. The young filmmakers talk about the move from all-Swahili education in their primary school years to an all-English education often taught by teachers who have little competence in the language themselves. In their award-winning film, the young filmmakers argue that instead of giving them an edge with improved language skills, they are learning almost nothing at all, neither English nor the content they need.

It is not clear whether a change was made due to this film, but the government in Zanzibar has decided to change the all-English policy and return to using Swahili as “the language of instruction in government schools” and returning English to the status of a foreign language class.

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1 25 June 2015.
2 The story on the NPR website also has a link to the film.

MOOC Sightings 007: The Battushig Factor in College Admissions

MOOC Sightings2

The difference between SAT scores of students from the lowest (<$20K) and highest (>$200K) income brackets is approximately 400 points. This point difference is mirrored in comparisons between the lowest (<high school) and highest (graduate degree) parental education levels.1

Battushig Myanganbayar

Battushig Myanganbayar

This correlation seems immutable. Parental education and income levels impact SAT scores and determine who gets into the most selective colleges. Then along came Battushig — Battushig Myanganbayar of Mongolia, that is, “The Boy Genius of Ulan Bator” — who, in June 2012, at 15, “became one of 340 students out of 150,000 to earn a perfect score in Circuits and Electronics, a sophomore-level class at M.I.T. and the first Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC.”2 His accomplishment didn’t go unnoticed, and he is now a research student at the MIT Media Lab.

Battushig is, of course, a rare exception, but his success adds to the already enormous potential of MOOCs and raises the possibility that they could become a factor in college admissions. In an editorial yesterday, Pitt News broaches this very idea: “Universities sometimes directly accept a student that excels in one of their MOOCs…. If not, the student may still choose to list the MOOC on his or her resumé under skills or relevant education. A completed MOOC is a valuable asset, comparable to a week-long leadership conference.”3

The message for parents and students is clear: MOOCs are poised to clear their current wildcard status and earn credibility as a key factor in college admissions.
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1 Zachary A. Goldfarb, “These Four Charts Show How the SAT Favors Rich, Educated Families,” Washington Post, 5 Mar. 2014. Also see Josh Zumbrun, “SAT Scores and Income Inequality: How Wealthier Kids Rank Higher,” WSJ, 7 Oct. 2014.

2 Laura Pappano, “The Boy Genius of Ulan Bator,” NY Times, 13 Sep. 2013. Also see her “How Colleges Are Finding Tomorrow’s Prodigies,” Christian Science Monitor, 23 Feb. 2014.

3Massive Open Online Courses Better Depict Student Potential,” op-ed, Pitt News, 23 Mar. 2015.

MOOC Sightings 006: Universities Are ‘Middle-men Selling a Product That Is Past Its Sell-by Date’

MOOC Sightings2

MOOC numbers from Seb Murray1 that are hard to ignore:

“About 50% [of] Coursera’s 12 million users are utilizing its courses to advance their careers, says Julia [Stiglitz, head of business development at Coursera]. ‘Helping people accelerate their career[s] by learning new skills is a major way that we hope to impact the lives of our learners.’”

“A recent survey of 400 US employers by Duke University and research group RTI International found that 57% said they could see their organization using Moocs for recruitment. And three-quarters said job applicants taking relevant Moocs would be perceived positively in hiring decisions.”

“In a poll of 1,000 UK employers last year by distance learning specialist the Open University[,] nearly half said additional education is the number-one reason they would offer salary increase or promotion – and gaining education with free online courses was the third most common thing the employers looked for.”

“Recent research by the Career Advisory Board found that 87% of 500 US hiring managers are likely to consider non-traditional ‘micro-credentials’, or specialized certificates awarded by reputable educational institutions, as proof of skill mastery.”

“Close to 95% of edX courses offer a verified certificate, [Nancy Moss, director of communications at edX] says, with many of its users looking for new jobs. ”

“While universities have faced the ignominy of budget cuts, tech groups have harvested massive war chests to expand. EdX last year had been funded with $90 million; Coursera has raised a total of $85 million; Udacity has raised $58 million.”

“Alison’s [Mike Feerick, CEO and founder of the Ireland-based Mooc provider,] offered a view that is widely shared in the education community: ‘…[Universities] are the necessary middle-men selling a product that is past its sell-by date.’”

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1Mooc Makers Disrupt Business Education With Careers Focus,” BusinessBecause, 22 Mar. 2015.

Mars One CEO Answers Questions About Mission Feasibility

Amersfoort, 19th March 2015 – Mars One recently published a video in which Bas Lansdorp, CEO and Co-founder of Mars One, replies to recent criticism concerning the feasibility of Mars One’s human mission to Mars.



Question: What do you think of the recent news articles that doubt the feasibility of Mars One?

BL: At Mars One we really value good criticism because it helps us to improve our mission. We get a lot of criticism from our advisors, and that is also exactly what we want from them. The recent bad press about Mars One was largely caused by an article on medium.com, which contains a lot of things that are not true. For example, the suggestion was made that our candidates were selected on the basis of how much money they donate to Mars One. That is simply not true, and it is very easy to find that on our website. There are a lot of current Round Three candidates that did not make any donations to Mars One, and there are also lots of people that did not make it to the third round that contributed a lot to Mars One. The two things are not related at all, and to say that they are is simply a lie. The article also states that there were only 2,700 applications for Mars One, which is not true. We offered the reporter, the first journalist ever, access to our list of 200,000 applications, but she was not interested in that. It seems that she is more interested in writing a sensational article about Mars One than in the truth.

We will have to delay the first unmanned mission to 2020. Delaying our first unmanned mission by two years also means that all the other missions will move by the same period of time, with our first human landing now planned for 2027. -B.L.

Question: Concerns have been voiced about the thoroughness of the astronaut selection process. What is your response to that?

BL: We started our astronaut selection with over 200,000 applications that were submitted online. The application included a video and a lot of psychological questions for our candidates. We used that to narrow down the candidates to about 1000 that had to do a medical check, which was very similar to the check for NASA astronauts. All the remaining candidates then underwent an interview. The interview and all other parts of the selection process were led by Norbert Kraft, our Chief Medical Officer. He has worked on astronaut selection for 5 years at the Japanese Space Agency, and at NASA he researched crew composition for long duration space missions.  Continue reading

MOOC Sightings 005: Wharton School and Universiti Teknikal Malaysia

MOOC Sightings2

Rapid change is the norm, and for professional development in business, MOOCs are the answer. “Wharton School recently teamed up with Coursera . . . and tech start-ups Snapdeal and Shazam to launch $595 online courses with certificates.” This unbundled or certificate model underscores the MOOC’s disruptive force. “‘For adults who have limited resources – whether that’s time or money,'” says Rick Levin, Coursera chief executive, “‘the Specialization [industry project] model works well.'”1

As change approaches warp speed, the shelf life of knowledge decreases and the need for constantly accessible modules of new knowledge increases. The watchword here is accessible, and this is the MOOC’s domain.

This fact is becoming increasingly obvious in the world of business where you’re either on the leading edge or out of the picture, and the critical factor is time. You can’t pause or stop to learn. Learning has to be on the go, and this means anytime-anywhere.

Will this disruption creep into our college campuses? Will traditional students take to learning in MOOC modules to keep pace with the latest developments in their field? How will this impact courses in the more traditional semester mold?

Most expect professors to gradually blend modules into their curricula, but this is an institutional perspective. My guess is that students will self-modularize and independently flow toward MOOCs that give them the edge, regardless of what professors and colleges decide to do.

In fact, this is already happening, but this disruption doesn’t show up on the campus-richter scale because, from all appearances, the students are on campus and sitting in lecture halls.

On college campuses in other parts of the world, the disruptive power of MOOCs is being embraced. Shahrin Sahib, vice-chancellor of Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka (UTeM), sees MOOCs as a window for “‘students to work collaboratively and closely with colleagues around the world and to have access not only to course instructors, but to textbook authors and experts from other institutions.'”2

For Sahib, the playing field is no longer just the university campus or Malaysia but the globe. He says, “‘If students are to fully assume positions of leadership and responsibility in specific organizations and in society as a whole, then they must be prepared to deal with the global environment.'” For college students, regardless of location, MOOCs are an interactive and accessible portal to that environment.
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1 Seb Murray, “Technology Expands Business Education As Students Opt for Digital Route,” BusinessBecause, 10 Mar. 2015.
2 Kelly Koh, “MOOC Can Help Create Global-ready Graduates,” New Straits Times, 10 Mar. 2015.

Free Webinar on Student Engagement 3/19/15 at 11am ET

5 Secrets to Spectacular Student Engagement

Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 11 AM EDT (US)
Not time-zone friendly? Register to receive the archive.

Dr. Colin Montpetit, Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Ottawa

Dr. Colin Montpetit, Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Ottawa

Register for this complimentary webinar to learn how Dr. Colin Montpetit, Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Ottawa, increased class participation to 99%. Hear how he transformed his classroom into an “active learning zone” with the use of a student engagement solution.

Get the full story behind Dr. Montpetit’s stunning findings – how student participation rates grew in his classes, grades improved and failure rates decreased. Register today!

Who Should Attend: All are welcome. Those in Academic Technology or Teaching and Learning Centers are highly encouraged to attend.

ScreenHunter_233 Mar. 10 08.07