Designing and Implementing MOOCs that Maximize Student Learning

Summary of a presentation by Seth Anderson (Duke), Amy Collier (Stanford), Cassandra Horlii (California Institute of Technology)

Amy: What is unique about online learning in MOOCs? Kurt Vonnegut once said “I want to stand as close to the edge as possible without falling over.” MOOCs are taking institutions and faculty to the edge. They present a unique design challenge. Some of the data makes this clear

In most of the MOOCs Stanford has offered, fewer than half the students have come from North America. Nearly half the people in a MOOC may not have a knowledge of English as a first language. They have a more varied educational and cultural background than in traditional courses.

The majority of active users say they’re taking the course for fun or a challenge, rather than a credential. The tendency to judge MOOCs based on completion rates overlooks the reasons why people join a MOOC. The majority engage in sampling behaviour – like the people in this webinar. Many are MOOC auditors, but they don’t engage, and they aren’t motivated by completion records.

A fun design challenge at Stanford has been to design MOOCs for reuse, by targeting local learning communities, eg. A database course used by local professors. We have some professors working on this with communities around the world.

Can we scaffold students’ prior knowledge? Can we design for learning in MOOCs?

Seth: how does one go about designing a pedagogically good course for 100,000 students? There weren’t exactly guidelines when we started, so we set about creating one to guide our faculty.

First, we need to follow sound learning principles, eg. to design goals and learning objectives. And we need to address the particular challenges of 100K students.

The wide variation in student demographics – in a traditional course, you can make generalizations or assumptions because of the admissions process. But you can’t do this for a MOOC. Also, there’s a wide range of expectations – it’s difficult to design for so many objectives.

What are the strategies?
- clear communication
- consistent process
- supportive learning community

These might look familiar – they are fundamental to good course design.

Communication is particularly important in a MOOC. You have to make it clear exactly what it is that you need them to do. Answer questions up front, thoroughly and simply. Yes, students can ask each other what’s expected, but it’s up to instructors to make these clear. Students need to know what it takes to be successful.

Consistency: create a consistent process defining the way information flows between instructor and student. Minimize frustration and confusion by creating a consistent schedule and sticking to it (SD – that’s what I did not do in Change 11 & CFHE12, to our detriment).

Learning community: many modern learning theories talk about students constructing knowledge in a way that makes sense to them by connecting with the material and communities of enquiry. So provide a place where students can connect and construct – make sure the forum is used in a meaningful way. The instructor needs to provide guidance, but students bring in knowledge to be ‘sewn in’ to the large fabric of knowledge, and the instructor needs to be a part of this community.

Cassandra: building an institutional support structure:

There are different models of course support, for example:

Normally when we offer a course, we pull out all the stops at the last minute. With MOOCs, the process must begin a lot earlier. For example, a professor may be working with th material moths ahead of the course to figure out how to ‘make the material come alive’.

When there are 10s of thousands of students watching, there are politicians and alumni, which makes the stakes a bit higher. There are different workflows. The novelty factor is huge. We are thinking about how to adapt our pedagogies to the tools we already have.

Here’s our organization chart:

Our business and finance people broker with course platform providers, our CIO and IT department are coding, our provosts are thinking about how to fund the effort, and the division heads are thinking with faculty about the time allocated, how to appoint TAs, and how to purchase the tech we need to provide courses well. As well as the other departments and people to the right.

Here are a few helpful practices we found useful:

-        -   We instituted a teaching and learning summit, not only about MOOCs, but also about other issues of interest.
-        -  We created a single point of contact for faculty and TA to reach out and seek support, so they can focus on the instruction
-        -  The course design processes may look stepwise, but in a MOOC the processes have to happen in parallel – once a piece of the MOOC is ready, we need to begin deploying even if the rest isn’t ready
-         - Anticipate the abnormal – we are learning about the new kinds of requirements, time commitments, etc.
-         - We document and generalize on our experiences, but we stay flexible to allow us to adapt; there are models that function as starting points, but they’re only starting points


Question: Do other organizations have policies, eg., IP policies? How does that impact course delivery?

Response (Amy) we generate our own content, so there’s nothing unusual there. Using other institutions’ content is allowed, and treated like bringing in a textbook. (Seth) We have people creating content for MOOCs and using it in their own classroom. (Cassandra) These are like aany other materials that faculty would produce or use.

Question: what about costs?

Response: (Cassandra) It’s hard to come up with a specific answer. But: purchasing the deployment equipment, purchasing tablets to manage a number of simultaneous MOOCs. Production time and staff costs, some funded directly by the provosts, some by distributing staff time. (Amy) production values change across MOOCs, professors may produce $100 videos, while others might produce things that cost a lot more.

Question: More about the team that works with the instructor

Response (Cassandra): mostly the academic and media technologies group, working behind the scenes and presenting a united front. Also the Center for teaching and learning, but that’s more of a drop-in thing, how to use the platform, how to troubleshoot.

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