St. George’s University MOOC Has 60% Completion Rate

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Completion rates for MOOCs are notoriously poor, with a median rate of 12.6%. But there are exceptions. Dr. Satesh Bidaisee’s MOOC, One Health, One Medicine, had a 60% completion rate. Bidaisee is a professor at St. George’s University, Grenada, West Indies. The following is a transcript of our interview from Aug. 7 through Oct. 3, 2017.

ETC: What made you decide to offer this course as a MOOC?

Bidaisee: Chancellor Charles Modica’s vision is to provide access to an SGU education to as many students as possible. Chancellor Modica is the founder of St. George’s University and has spent his life working towards educating a global community of students and alumni. The advent of online technology provides another avenue for SGU to provide educational access to a wider audience.

I am also passionate towards education. A background as a survivor of a motor vehicle accident, a ruptured aneurysm, and testicular cancer have provided sufficient experience to motivate me to contribute to the learning development of others as a purpose in life.

ETC: One of your course objectives is “To demonstrate effective oral skills for communicating with different audiences in the context of human, animal and environmental health.” How do students “demonstrate oral skills”?

Bidaisee: Through live seminar sessions, recorded presentations.

ETC: Can you give us an example?

Bidaisee: Students prepared, presented and recorded oral presentations, which were shared with the course community and peer assessed by colleagues. Diseases such as Lyme Diseases, West Nile Virus, Ebola, etc. were discussed in the context of having applications for human health, animal health and environmental considerations.   Continue reading

What’s Wrong with MOOCs: One-Size-Fits-All Syndrome

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

The Malaysian government is taking steps to “make 30 per cent of higher education courses available as massive open online courses (or MOOCs) by 2020” (Financial Review, 2 Oct. 2016). The MOOCs are free, but there’s a fee for assessments that grant credit for courses taken at other universities. From 64 courses in 2015, the number has grown to 300 this year.

The down side, as I see it, is that they’re relying on a single MOOC management system (MMS) — in this case, OpenLearning, which is based in Sydney. This shoehorning of course design and development into a proprietary box is a clear sign that the Malaysian administrators don’t have a clue about MOOCs.

This problem of overreliance on an MMS is endemic in the vast majority of universities that are tiptoeing into MOOCs. It’s the same mindset that tosses all online courses into a single LMS. If this one-size-fits-all approach were applied to F2F courses, professors would be outraged by this brazen violation of academic freedom.

The web is an infinite frontier with limitless resources for creating a wide range of MOOCs. In contrast, boxed platforms being hawked by non- and for-profits such as Coursera, edX, and OpenLearning don’t even begin to scratch the surface of possibilities. Jumping whole hog into one of them is to automatically accept an MMS’s limited views of what a MOOC can be.  Continue reading

A Successful Public Health MOOC: Interview with Dr. Satesh Bidaisee

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

One Health, One Medicine: An Ecosystem Approach was a five-week public health MOOC offered by Dr. Satesh Bidaisee1 at St. George’s University, Grenada, in summer 2016. The course attracted 582 students from all over the world and was especially popular with students from the Caribbean, United States, and even Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.

Among the 582 who enrolled, participants, or “students who took at least one graded activity in the course,” numbered 98, which is 17% of the total enrolled. Of the 98 participants, 52 completed the course. Completion is defined as achieving “at least a 50% in the course, which required them to get full participation and quiz credit and at least one additional exercise (case or presentation).”

Calculated in this way, the completion rate among participants was 53%, four times the rate in previous years. Of the 50 students who completed the survey, 98% rated their overall experience in the course as good or excellent. To the question “Would you be interested in pursuing a degree from St. Goerge’s University?”, 82% answered yes. Of this number, 30% preferred online courses, 16% preferred on-campus classes, and the remaining 36% had no preference either way.

Dr. Satesh Bidaisee, St. George's University, Grenada.

Dr. Satesh Bidaisee, St. George’s University, Grenada.

ETC: How would you explain the high rate of completion for your MOOC?
Bidaisee: The key factors were: (1) A user-friendly online course management system, SGUx, which is built on the EdX platform. (2) Accessible course team. (3) Interactions with students through live seminars, live office hours, discussion blogs, Twitter communication. (3) Case study reviews, peer-review evaluation of student-produced seminars. (4) Focused course topic and content on One Health, One Medicine.  Continue reading

Review of ‘Towards a European Perspective on Massive Open Online Courses’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

I was drawn to some of the articles in this special issue1 and found insights that I feel are worth mentioning. One that stands out is in Schuwer et al.’s article,2 in a summary attributed to Fairclough3: “MOOCs are perhaps best understood as ‘imaginary’… a prefiguring of possible and desired realities rather than a unified and coherent domain around which clear boundaries exist.”

Fairclough’s observation takes us a step closer to unravelling the MOOC conundrum. The expanding list of acronyms for different MOOC constructs should tip us to the fact that MOOCs are reifications, figments of our imagination or, more accurately, a specific set of ideas bundled in different ways. In short, MOOCs don’t exist.

By “don’t exist,” I mean they’re not a separate or unique specie. They’re simply a class in the genus online course. Add openness to a traditional online course, and you end up with a MOOC. By “openness,” I mean removing most of the formal trappings that we associate with college courses: capacity limits, traditional registration and pre-requisite requirements, tuition and fees, semester or quarter time frames, required textbooks, and grades and credits.

In other words, MOOCs are projected variations of standard online courses. As such, they represent the outer limits of what online courses could be. The point is that the issue isn’t MOOCs themselves but the innovative features that they present for possible incorporation in online courses.

In this context, Schuwer et al.’s warning that, “in the long run, a threat to MOOCs may manifest, if they are not well-integrated in broader university strategies and do not establish their own role within the university offerings” is only half correct. That is, for the open features of MOOCs to evolve, they must be integrated into existing online course policies and procedures. However, establishing “their own role within the university offerings” may not only be redundant but a costly failure in terms of the growth of 21st century practices.  Continue reading

MIT’s MOOC-based Micro-Master’s Degree: Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

MIT’s decision to grant credit for MOOC courses in their supply-chain management master’s program1 is the long awaited breakthrough to the next step in online education. With this move, they’re distancing themselves from the pack, creating a huge vacuum that’s sure to suck the others in.

This decision of a top-tier university to recognize MOOCs as a viable alternative for delivering college credit courses was inevitable. It was going to happen, sooner or later. Given the fact that colleges in the U.S. and around the world have been offering completely online credit courses for years, the only question is, what took so long?

Hats off to the MIT administration and faculty for extending the promise of traditional online courses to MOOCs. MOOCs will cover the first half of the course work required for the master’s, and those who do well and are accepted into the program will then be required to register for the remaining half in on-campus classes. Despite this blended approach, this is a gutsy move in more ways than one. It spotlights the first “O” in MOOC, which is the most critical feature in massive open online courses. It also opens the door to the inevitable next step, a proliferation of full undergraduate and graduate degree programs delivered completely online via MOOCs at a fraction of the cost of MIT’s proposed blended model.2

Once that credibility door is opened by an institution such as MIT, which is among the handful of defacto higher ed leaders in online education, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the entire wall between online and onground will crumble.

We’re probably going to see leapfrogging in the coming weeks and months, with the rest of the field scrambling to one up MIT. The intriguing question is, what forms will credit MOOCs take?

Considering the formless elasticity of MOOCs, options are wide open, limited only by imagination. The most imaginative and creative institutions will, as a first step, take a long hard look at the wealth of possibilities for innovation inherent in the MOOC structure and design courses that will shake up our ages-old model for college courses.

In this last quarter of 2015, we, the world, can begin to look forward to some massive surprises in online college degree options in spring 2016.
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1Jeffrey R. Young, “MIT Master’s Program to Use MOOCs as ‘Admissions Test’” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 7 Oct. 2015).
2This paragraph was expanded on 10/8/15 at 19:13 to clarify the blended nature of the pilot program.

MOOCs: A Toolbox for Course Designers?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

In a video interview, Jonathan Moules1 asks Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn, some tough questions about the current state of MOOCs. Noules’ Moules’ questions caught my attention:

  • “How much of an issue is it that most of the people signed up for FutureLearn and other online education platforms already have a degree?”
  • “What’s more important, is it broadening access to millions of people across the planet to education or is it about making money?”
  • “How do you make money from online education?”
  • “A criticism of online education has been that a lot of people signing up for these courses don’t complete them. Do you see that as a challenge?”Simon Nelson CEO FutureLearn2

And I found Nelson’s responses succinct, clear, practical, and informed.

As much as these questions and responses are enlightening, however, I can’t help but feel that they continue to pigeonhole MOOCs as fascinating but peripheral, impractical and ineffective counterparts to standard college courses. As long as this perception persists, MOOCs will remain outside the circle of serious discussion in higher ed, and this alienation will prolong the wait for the next step in course design.

In my mind, MOOCs are much more than a far-out platform for free courses with almost limitless seating capacity. If we can  get past the idea that they are a specific course type, built in stone, we can begin to explore the endless possibilities that they represent as a tabula rasa for envisioning the shape of courses to come in the 21st century. In other words, MOOCs have expanded our conception of what a course can be, offering us a whole view that takes into account the latest technological breakthroughs. Continue reading

Human Beings Could Be the Largest Untapped Resource in Online Learning

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Posted 7/28/15 at 10:17am; updated 11:46am

In the discussion on “MOOCs and Traditional Online Courses Are on a Collision Path,” Ray Rose (onlinelearningevangelist) and Harry Keller are having a fascinating exchange on the problem of captioning in MOOC videos. A cost-effective solution is autocaptioning, but the outlook at this time for developing an effective tool isn’t very good.

Their discussion fascinates in more ways than one. For example, it raises the issue of problem-solving in the online environment. What is the best approach?

For problems in technology, we naturally gravitate toward technological solutions, for example, a program that automatically translates speech to text and displays it as captions.

The cost for developing such a program, however, may be prohibitive, and the wide variation in human speech even within a single dialect makes the task extremely difficult.

But high tech problems don’t necessarily exclude low-tech solutions that are leveraged by technology. Put another way, the latest technology could generate innovative approaches that rely on old-fashioned human power, creating cost-effective solutions that blend the old with the new.

For example, Duke’s Sally Kornbluth,1 discussing the problem of formative evaluations in MOOCs, says, “If you’re wondering how you can possibly read 400,000 essays, you can have 400,000 students read one another’s essays.” Her point is that “there’s a lot of unexplored power that can be harnessed.” We just need to open our eyes to a much wider range of possibilities — and the possibilities could easily include human resources such as classmates empowered by networking technology.

The rap against peer feedback models, however, is that they’re unreliable, but ongoing research is proving that they can be and are being improved.

We have to keep in mind, though, that peer feedback is really just one of many other forms of evaluation provided by people other than teachers. For example, Sebastian Thrun,2 for his Udacity nanodegree on Android programming, takes the idea of peer evaluators and leverages it to include experts who aren’t part of the formal instructional staff. He has created a “network of 300 global code reviewers” who provide feedback to students.

The genius of this business model is that it’s self-sustaining while providing a profit for Udacity. Students pay $200 a month, reviewers’ pay is covered by this amount, students rate the quality of the feedback they receive, and reviewer income is determined by the evaluations they receive from students.

According to Thrun, “The best-earning global code reviewer makes more than 17,000 bucks a month. I compare this to the typical part-time teacher in the U.S. who teaches at a college — they make about $2,000 a month.”

This model could be applied to other problems (see Harry Keller’s comment) such as captioning. For example, MOOC developers could put out an international call for transcribers who are willing to provide captioning services. Since captions are aimed primarily at learners with disabilities, candidates could be volunteers or paid through philanthropic and public funds. A rating system could be attached to the videos, providing both student feedback on the quality of the captions and a means to control for quality.

The pool for captioners, when geographic location is factored out, is potentially huge. It could include high school and college students earning service credits, retirees, homebound adults, military personnel, and select prisoners.

We tend to think of technology as cold and impersonal, but it really doesn’t have to be. Technology could easily be a means to expand and deepen human interaction, providing a way for people to collaborate, one-on-one, with others.

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1George Anders, “The Believer: Duke’s Sally Kornbluth,” MIT Technology Review, 27 July 2015.
2Nanette Byrnes, “Uber for Education,” MIT Technology Review, 27 July 2015.