Since the beginning, I’ve felt that one of the biggest contributions of MOOC mania is a richer view into the ways that top teachers design and deliver their courses. Opening a course to feedback from students and suggestions from outside experts can help push courses to higher levels of quality. Even better results come when course developers take the time to publish detailed assessments of what has been learned from these large scale experiments, or when thoughtful teachers reflect on their own practice.
Reflections of a Stanford Math Professor
Recently, Keith Devlin, mathematics professor at Stanford has been posting his reflections based on two iterations of his Introduction to Mathematical Thinking course. His results look like those of many of the other MOOCs reported about in the press:
- Total enrollment: 27,930
- Number of students still active during final week of lectures: ca 4,000
- Total submitting exam: 870
- Number of students receiving a Statement of Accomplishment: 1,950
- Number of students awarded a SoA with Distinction: 390
His reflection on his work provides deeper insight to those of us who haven’t had the experience of teaching a course on this scale think a little more deeply about the process. Framing his course as a “research project” he suggests that we really need to question all of our preconceptions about the nature of education. He says:
From the start, I took the viewpoint that, given the novelty of the MOOC platform, we need to examine the purpose, structure, and use of all the familiar educational elements: “lecture,” “quiz,” “assignment,” “discussion,” “grading,” “evaluation,” etc. All bets are off.
Rethinking everything we know about teaching and learning is tough — particularly for those of us who have spent half a century or more as participants in the educational system. Our existing schemata and frames of reference aren’t up to the task of easily understanding alternatives to these deeply embedded components of courses. Building those new frames of reference requires a more systematic reflection on our teaching — the kind of reflection we’re trying to encourage at William & Mary through participation in the E-Learning Community.
Separating Learning from Evaluation
In discussing his course, Devlin sees the separation of learning from evaluation as being central to understanding and benefitting from the lessons of the MOOCOSPHERE. Since a very small percentage of students seem to care about the summative evaluation — the certificate — the course can focus more specifically on finding ways to define and foster learning and to provide formative tools for learners.
One way of better using these new tools is to reframe them as resources, not courses:
Rather, those of us currently engaged in developing and offering MOOCs are, surely, creating resources that will be part of a vast smorgasbord from which people will pick and choose what they want or need at any particular time…. Given the way names get assigned and used, we may find we are stuck with the name MOOC (massive open online course), but a better term would be MOOR, for massive open online resource.
Thinking about MOOCs as resources, not as courses, will challenge the business models of Udacity, Coursera and even the not-for-profit Edx. (Not to mention those of us in the university world who depend on offering courses for our business model.) If the online educational community evolves in the way that Devlin suggests, the video resources that make up the core of most MOOCs will eventually gravitate to the open Web. Those that use student data to iterate and improve will continue to grow. Those that don’t are like to drop by the wayside.