More on MOOCs

This past Friday Sarah Hews gave the NS Lunch talk about MOOCs and how they could be used at Hampshire. She has had a number of students make use of open educational resources over the past year: some for independent studies, some to get up to speed on foundational skills, some to pursue areas of interest that lie outside our course offerings. She made a powerful case for utilizing these resources as complements to the Hampshire experience, and as a natural tie-in to Hampshire’s commitment to innovative education.

I’ve been doing my own research on MOOCs these past few months and I’m torn about them. On one hand, they are an incredible treasure trove of knowledge, put out there for the world to enjoy for free. On the other hand, they are notoriously difficult for students to actually stick with, and recent research about online learning in general points to its polarizing affect on student achievement: students who usually do well do even better online, and students who usually struggle have an even harder time.

I wrote about my previous experience as a MOOC dropout here. Recently I decided to give one another shot and enrolled in the 5-week Coursera course “E-Learning and Digital Cultures”, presented by the University of Edinburgh. The course succeeded for me as a repository of information: recommended readings, videos, resources and gave me a time-based framework in which to explore them. It failed for me as a means of connection with others. I simply get overwhelmed at discussion boards containing thousands of posts by thousands of people. Some students were taking things very seriously and diligently blogging, tweeting, and completing assignments. There were interesting people doing interesting work, but I found that in order to keep myself on track I needed to ignore my fellow participants and just focus on the course content, thus missing out on a big part of MOOCs’ purpose.

MOOCs lack student commitment because there’s no one to commit to- I find myself looking for local people taking the same course just to feel some kind of real-world connection. I think if students were placed in groups of 10-20 people there would be better outcomes since they could actually get to know the people in their group, and dropping the course would “matter” more. It’s just to hard to find and keep connections in a group of thousands. Imagine my surprise upon finding out that one of Sarah’s students and I were enrolled in the same MOOC- and we never knew! I might not have dropped out if I had someone to compare notes with and to serve up a little peer pressure.

That said, I do think MOOCs and Open Education in general are a resource Hampshire cannot afford to ignore. Sarah highlighted the numerous potential uses at Hampshire, and I think if anyone can survive a MOOC it is a Hampshire student. Most already have the prerequisite motivation and self direction (that I apparently lack). Taking a MOOC in a larger context of an independent study or group project seems a win/win in that you get the benefit of the course content with the reinforcement of flesh-and-blood people to work with.

Another venue to explore is creating courses ourselves here at Hampshire. It’s powerful publicity, and a good way to showcase and demonstrate our innovative educational model.

Really looking forward to exploring more about how MOOCs can serve Hampshire. Get in touch if you’re interested, too!

Some MOOC and Open Educational Resources:  – The website of the creators of the very fist MOOC, which continues to serve as a clearinghouse of MOOC activity.

Open Courseware (good index here) is a different animal in that it offers course materials but not as a formal “course”. Examples are MIT’s open courseware and everything on iTunes U. In a way these can be more useful for students as they can be used a-la-carte and on one’s own timeframe.


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