Saturday, November 30, 2013

Innovative Ways to Grade Students in Massive Open Online Classrooms (MOOCs)

By Sean Scarpiello

As more online educational programs such as Coursera, Udacity, and others become available online, there are a lot more students enrolling in these Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs). And while education can easily be provided at much lower prices in MOOCs, some aspects of education still remain difficult, if complicated by moving education to online media. One aspect of education where this is seen is in the grading and evaluation of students. As the number of students in a class increases, it becomes more and more difficult for teachers to grade the tests, projects, and assignments of the class. And while the class size of many of these online classes offered by Coursera and Udacity reach well into the thousands, it becomes extremely difficult for professors to evaluate each student individually.

As a result, there have been many new and innovative ways teachers have designed work to be graded on a mass scale. For one, I have seen many tests designed in such a ways that goes beyond the typical multiple choice problems. In some of my online past assignments for classes, I have seen problems asking to organize statements into a sequence of events, analyze graphs, and even fill in the blank. Through these types of online questions, teachers enable multiple correct answers to account for different interpretations of data and wording used by students. Further, I have even seen some programs that allow students to build models or solve huge math equations all by breaking up the problem into individual steps that are graded individually. As a result, students can have instant results on their grade in a test or assignment.

But while these types of online grading techniques are easy to use for professors, the evaluation of student’s knowledge using these techniques is limited. While some students could simply fill out questions as they look up the answers online, other students may not be challenged enough with a test of matching, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple choice questions. Further, there are some subjects, such as in political science, English, and business courses where grades cannot be based off of tests but rather papers or projects. In these areas, MOOCs often struggle to find ways for professors to grade a class of 1,000 papers or projects. However, some MOOCs have come up with some innovative ways of assigning and grading these sorts of assignments.

Coursera has come up with the idea of allowing peers to grade each other’s work. After turning in an assignment, Coursera sends it out to a handful of other students who have also turned in the assignment for grading. Then, based on certain criteria, it is graded by other students in the class, and then their results are averaged to give students their grade on a project. So far, this technique has worked successfully because professors can still challenge their students with projects, but continue to grade their student efficiently. This serves as just one example how the grading and evaluation of students enrolled in MOOCs can be innovative and successful.

As MOOCs and other types of similar programs are developed, this sort of innovation needs to be implemented into other programs. Therefore, students are not forfeiting quality of education at the expense of difficulties in grading. In this case, MOOCs can continue to provide high quality education to more students at reduced cost through the utilization of technology.

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