MOOC(h): How MOOCs Will Help the Rest of Us

We have written a lot about MOOCs on this blog, and if you are professor who teaches small lecture or seminar courses, you might not care.  I understand!  You have existing responsibilities and it can take a lot of time to keep up on technology, let alone use it in a class.  But, even for the most apathetic among us, I think the MOOCs have something to offer.  As high-profile universities and professors set out to “change the world,” and deliver courses to thousands of students at a time, they will also develop tools that will help everyone else teach and learn.  Software engineers and professors will create new tools to manage large courses, and as they do so, they will change the conventions about what professors need from a learning management system (like Blackboard).  While conversations about MOOCs can be about “democratizing education,” they can also be about getting professors better tools.

New Tools for Managing Courses

The logistics of teaching large online classes require professors, and software development teams, to develop new tools to manage courses.  My favorite example is how professors might get a sense of how their class is doing as a whole.  Many faculty teaching small lecture classes or seminars can grade a set of exams and, without much effort, know where their class is having a hard time.  This can’t happen in the same way when there are thousands of exams to grade.  To deal with this, some professors use software to process the results of the exam and find out the most oft-missed questions and the most common wrong answers.  They then can take this information and build feedback into their exams and quizes.  (Watch Daphne Koller’s Ted Talk below for this example.)

While collecting and processing your students’ exams and quizzes might be more effective if you have a huge class, the idea of creating meaningful reports about how your students interact with course material is promising. What if a learning management system (LMS) you already use every day showed you at a glance information about how your students were doing? Looking at MOOCs this way makes them more relevant for many of us.  MOOCs will drive the development of better LMSs — something that most professors already have made room for in their daily routine. In other words, the talk about MOOCs isn’t about changing how you approach teaching, it is about taking the habits you already have established (like logging into Blackboard) and making those interactions more meaningful.



This is an exciting time for LMS development. Software engineers are building LMSs to help run MOOCs and releasing them as open source software meaning that anyone can download, install, and run it for free.  More importantly, being open source means the team who released the code encourages others to contribute to the project.  Once such project comes from Stanford where software engineers working to support the University’s MOOCs released their own Learning Management System called Class2Go.

Class2Go is cool for a number of reasons.  First, it takes advantage of modern Web technologies to help run classes.  For example, it uses an existing JavaScript library to allow professors to embed quizzes in videos (if you follow that link, you will need to login to their demo site with the username: class2go and password: class2go).  It also incorporates other open source projects to extend its features while keeping it easier to maintain for developers.

The engineers and professors working on Class2Go have also included different types of assessments and reporting features to help professors keep track of student performance.  This combined with Class2Go being open source holds the most possibility for the “rest of us” not involved in MOOCs.  For various reasons, many of the “rest of us” work in the humanities.  Because Class2Go is open source, we can work on developing Web-based assessments and tools that are relevant to the humanities.  We can experiment and see what type of data we can collect from student interactions with the LMS and work towards turning that into better interfaces for professors to use.  Class2Go can serve as a foundation for giving professors better support in and out of the classroom.

I doubt that many W&M professors will teach MOOCs to thousands of students in the near future.  But, professors who are doing this elsewhere need tools to help them manage large number of students.  Things like having software grade your tests may not help a professor in the humanities, but being able to quickly see information about your students’ performance might make academic life easier.  The technology developed to run MOOCs is advancing quickly and doesn’t have to be about changing how you approach teaching.  Rather, it is about giving you better tools to replace the one’s you have now that don’t work as well as they should.

About Evan Cordulack

Evan Cordulack is a Web Applications Specialist for Academic Technology. He helps faculty members with Web-based projects related to their research and teaching. He earned his PhD in American Studies at William & Mary in 2013. Find him at