Friday, June 6, 2014
If you were designing a massive open online course (a "MOOC"), how would you make it as effective as possible?
This week I am not looking at how MOOCs compare to in-person courses, but rather I am looking at how various MOOCs compare to one another.
A few of my thoughts are below.
Studio Filming. Some of the earlier MOOCs, like Ben Polak's Game Theory class at Yale, simply set a camera in the room and recorded the class. Even with a dynamic professor like Polak, this strategy did not seem to fit the medium well. Later MOOCs, like Northwestern University's Law & Entrepreneurship course, were filmed specially for the MOOC, in what appears to be a studio of sorts. The studio, edited versions of a course seem to produce a much more efficient and engaging experience. To increase engagement even further, some have asked whether celebrities like Matt Damon should teach MOOCs (presumably from a script prepared by professors in the field)...or maybe professors should take acting classes.
Deadlines and Certificates. It is well-known that the completion rate for MOOCs is miserable. The completion rate has been reported as less than 7%. I imagine that rate would increase significantly if the online courses were not free. Also, while I have not seen the data, I think MOOCs with deadlines for various sections of the course and courses with certificates encourage students to stay on track and finish classes they start.
Assessments. I preferred the MOOCs that had online questions as you went along with the video lectures (every 10-15 minutes) rather than those that just had questions at the end, but this can be overdone if it cuts up the flow of the lecture too much. I did not mind if the MOOC had questions during both the presentations and at the end of the unit, and it was probably good to be tested on the same material twice.
Focused Discussion Boards. The discussion boards I have seen on MOOCs seem to be mostly a waste of time, at least the way the vast majority of the boards are currently configured. The discussion boards are mostly the blind leading the blind and there is too much noise and too little value. Perhaps the discussion boards could be divided by geographic location or level of education. I’d be interested in a discussion board of MOOC users in middle Tennessee (perhaps the group would meet in person once or twice) or in a discussion board of academics from around the world. Perhaps they could still have the “all-comers” discussion board for those who wanted to engage with the entire class, but I would have found a more limited and selected group to be more useful.
Next week, I will talk about MOOCs v. In-Person Courses. The New York Times recently looked at this issue in the context of Harvard Business School; I will dig into the issue and the article next week.