Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Four Steps to Getting MOOCs Right

Betonwerksteinskulptur "Lehrer-Student&qu...
"Lehrer-Student" von Reinhard Schmidt
in Rostock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I love alarming education headlines - five MOOC classes are put on hold and the San Francisco Chronicle says "San Jose suspends online courses." Which it didn't - it suspended five MOOC courses because of a high student failure rate. San Jose's online college is still going forward. And they are right to suspend the classes. I just wish more work went into how those courses were put together (if only for the sake of the students). These classes are not so far out on the cutting edge that one couldn't predict that there would be problems. The MOOCs at San Jose are nothing new - even the failure rate is nothing new. All of the research into how to make online classes successful, including MOOCs is already in place. Educators have been researching successful online programs since the 90s. There are very clear reasons why the best online programs succeed. My own work in community colleges in closing the student success and retention rates between online and face-to-face classes dealt with similar issues. What we learned about online classes, big and small, was that they will not succeed for any population, at-risk or otherwise without these four things in place:

  1. Interactivity and Engagement - There is a direct correlation in the research between online interactivity and student success rates. Interactivity means "meaningful, purposeful, engagement" not just clicking on the play button. Interactivity means teacher-student, student-student, and student-content. And yes, there are ways to do this successfully in a MOOC (step 1, hire an instructional designer!). There needs to be more emphasis in MOOCs on collaborative projects and less"watch a video, take a test." This distinction is easily made when you look at connectivist cMOOCs versus xMOOCs
  2. Student Support - If your face-to-face students can't be successful without tutors, academic advisors, a help desk, and librarians, why would you expect your online students to be successful without them? There are tutoring services on your campus and great peer-to-peer tutoring resources online such as OpenStudy
  3. Student Orientation - Students have spent 12 years learning how to be a face-to-face student and 0 years learning how to be an online student. This is an easy fix. We did it in the community colleges with courses like "DE 101." Things that make students successful in online classes include time management, study skills, motivation, and other metacognitive skills that can be taught. Online learning is not just about technology.
  4. Faculty Training - The same magic that makes someone a teacher instantly when they get their master's degree does not work online. Just as students need to learn the skills to be an online student, teachers need to learn the skills to facilitate online teaching. Recording your lecture and posting it online will not work. There are a lot of resources, classes, and research online on this subject
So interestingly enough, there are no real differences in how classes online or off are successful! I have been in online classes, including MOOCs that had all of this in place: the assignments were designed to be collaborative and engaging, there were links to student support, there was sufficient information to tell students how to take the class, and the instructors were skilled online facilitators, curators, and guides. A college does not have to ignore 20 years of research into online learning to be innovative.
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