Monday, September 30, 2013

How We Can Improve Massive Open Online Classrooms (MOOCs)

By Sean Scarpiello

After reviewing some recently published news articles on the success of Massive Open Online Classrooms (MOOCs), I was a bit shocked to see that there were not many fans of this technology in the academic community. Last year, many colleges made agreements with companies such as Udacity and began to give academic credit to students upon completion of many courses taken through MOOCs. However, many colleges and universities found that their students did not do well in these types of classes. In fact, one school had prematurely ended a MOOC pilot program after only two semesters with the program in place. This is because they found that half of the students who pass traditional classes ended up failing a MOOC class. So, is it that we need to go back to the drawing board and redesign MOOCs, or do we need to do something else to fix this problem?

When looking into the first MOOCs that existed, Sebastian Thurun’s Artificial Intelligence MOOC, we see that overall, a huge amount people, around 160,000 students, took the course. Of these 160,000 students, only 23,000 passed the class. This is not a very good number considering less than 15% of students graduated the course. However, it is important to remember that not one student paid for their spot in the class. Furthermore, it is difficult to estimate how many students really “took” the class by actively completing assignments, taking tests, and watching the lectures. Overall, we must consider that since students were not paying out of pocket for the MOOC they were enrolled in, we cannot expect them to have taken the course seriously. When looking back at how traditional types of classes have a much higher success rate than the MOOCs, it is important to remember that there is a price tag placed on each class. Personally, I make every attempt to attend each one of my college level classes, because when I break down the number of hours of class time over the cost of tuition, each class costs about $40 to $60, which is a lot of money that many students will not want to waste. Beyond this, MOOCs place students in a difficult position. MOOCs rely on students to take the initiative to sit down and complete classwork. In traditional schooling and in a lot of college classrooms, professors, teachers, and teaching assistants hound students for work on strict due dates. Therefore, if students want to save the money that comes along with MOOCs, they are really going to need to take some of their own initiative to sit down and work on classwork. Otherwise, it would probably be better for students who struggle at focusing to go ahead and pay to sit through formal classes.

In light of this, I do not think that MOOCs are 100% perfect and faultless in these cases. The colleges offering trial programs with MOOCs must have still had reasons to cancel these technology based classrooms. MOOCs are often criticized for being very heavy on the memorization and regurgitation of topics. This often means that many students do not learn much because they simply memorize the material for the test, and then later forget about it. Additionally, MOOCs lack collaboration and application of class material. This is a difficult task for MOOCs to include into their curriculum due to the online nature of MOOCs. However, professors teaching MOOCs could easily include pages of extra practice problems where students can apply the materials they are learning in class. The last major criticism of MOOCs is that they allow for little feedback. This can definitely hold true, but again there is an easy fix for this problem. The instructors of MOOCs could work with program designers to include question-answer modules with the professor or teaching assistant, as well as include open forum where classmates can discuss their individual issues in the class. Here, students will be able to voice their concerns with their professors and classmates, and the professor can then act to clarify certain areas in the material and answer questions that many students are asking.

In all, while there has been a lot of criticism coming from the academic community on MOOCs, it is important to remember a few things. MOOCs will take some time to get used to and many students will need to change their study habits or otherwise pay to take traditional types of classes. Also, MOOC designers can do their part by making the MOOCs as similar to traditional classrooms as possible by including places for interaction to occur among classmates and professors. MOOCs have the potential to completely revolutionize the field of education by bringing education to the masses through technology at low costs. Therefore, it is important to not give up on MOOCs until we change the way we think about them and change their designs to become more individualized and student friendly.


No comments: