MOOC completion rates for serious students quite respectable

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) with enrollments often reaching 100,000 or more are famous (or infamous) for their low completion rates, averaging around 10%.  However, it appears that serious students in MOOCs have a much higher completion rate.  According to the co-founders of Coursera, students who turn in the first assignment have a completion rate of 45%.

For students who are paying $50 for the company’s new Signature Track program—which includes features designed as safeguards against identity fraud and cheating on examinations—the pass rates are even higher, at about 70 percent.

These completion rates substantiate the anecdotal evidence that many people enroll in MOOCs as lurkers or just to see what they are like, with no intention of actually completing the course.

Source: Steve Kolowich,  “Coursera Takes a Nuanced View of MOOC Dropout Rates“,  Chronicle of Higher Education, Wired Campus Blog of April 8, 2013.


MOOCs: to master predetermined content OR to participate in active learning, content creation communities?

Are today’s best known MOOCs , those provided by Coursera, Udacity and edX, really just a 21st century textbook,  as some argue?  Lisa Lane in her Online Teaching blog claims that most “use a pedagogy that is similar to an early 20th century correspondence course – read, test, repeat.”  Because the mainstream media focus on Coursera, Udacity and edX, the early MOOCs pioneered by George Siemens, Stephen Downes anesd others are often ignored.  These early MOOCs, beginning in 2008 and often known as cMOOCs or Connectivist MOOCs, are quite different from the widely publicized current MOOC offerings (sometimes known as xMOOCs) of Coursera, Udacity and edX.

According to Wikipedia “Connectivist MOOCs are based on several principles stemming  from connectivist pedagogy. The principles include:

  1. Aggregation. The whole point of a connectivist MOOC is to provide a starting point for a massive amount of content to be produced in different places online, which is later aggregated as a newsletter or a web page accessible to participants on a regular basis. This is in contrast to traditional courses, where the content is prepared ahead of time.
  2. The second principle is remixing, that is, associating materials created within the course with each other and with materials elsewhere.
  3. Re-purposing of aggregated and remixed materials to suit the goals of each participant.
  4. Feeding forward, sharing of re-purposed ideas and content with other participants and the rest of the world.”

While today’s popular xMOOCs certainly provide opportunities for people worldwide to study everything from Intermediate Organic Chemistry to Aboriginal Worldviews (see Coursera course listings), do these well-known MOOCs really represent a revolution in education, as often proclaimed?  If we want our college graduates to have well-developed critical thinking skills and to be problem solvers, are xMOOCs the answer?  Or should we be focusing more on the project based, discovery learning characteristic of constructivist, connectivist pedagogy, whether by old-fashioned face-to-face classrooms or online courses?

It is interesting to ponder where the “Feminist Dialogues on Technology” MOOC/DOCC (Distributed Online Collaborative Course) fits in this cMOOC  vs xMOOC schema.  The feminist MOOC/DOCC (see my earlier post) is being developed as a collaborative effort by many professors which will utilize short, thought-provoking video interviews and a variety of assignments or exercises (Boundary Objects that Learn) developed by the organizing collective.  Will this course be able to preserve the more constructivist, connectivist approach characteristic of feminist pedagogy and the cMOOCs?

To learn more

  • About how connectivist MOOCs work, see About this Course by Downes which spells out how the aggregating, remixing, etc. works.  Same info is presented in a creative video “Success in a MOOC” by Dave Cormier.
  • MOOCs as Participatory Communities: My Experience with “eLearning and Digital Cultures”  in which participant claims that this MOOC  “is not designed to impart fixed facts to students; it is designed to be an experience, where students learn about digital culture by discovery and experimentation” (in contrast to typical xMOOCs which “require students to watch a series of recorded lectures and take quizzes or exams that demonstrate their understanding of the material”).
  • A Tale of Two MOOCS  has a table at end of article comparing the pedagogical methods of a very structured MOOC with a more constructivist one.

Piazza: Discussion Board for Classes

David Korfhage at ED: Social Media provides the following description for Piazza which might be a useful alternative to Google Groups or discussion boards on Moodle, Blackboard, D2L, etc. For an illuminating demonstration of how it actually works, see this demo page at the Piazza web site.

Piazza  describes itself as “a place where students can come together to ask, answer, and explore under the guidance of their instructor.”  In practice, it’s rather like a fancied-up discussion board.  Students can post questions for other students to answer, or post private question for the instructor’s eyes only.  In addition, the instructor can post notes (for announcements, or such like) for all students to read.  There are a few bells and whistles (for example, the instructor can “validate” a correct response to a student), but largely the purpose seems to be to encourage student interaction for purposes of mutual aid in studying and learning.

Pros: Easy to use interface.  It’s good to have a forum in which students can learn/be encouraged to ask their own questions.  Anything that gets students to take the lead in learning, rather than just relying on the teacher, is welcome to me.

Cons: If it’s really a big discussion board, why not use an existing service, such as Moodle (at my school), Edmodo, Schoology, even a Facebook group?  Does Piazza’s extra functionality really make it worthwhile to add one more site to the students’ on-line agenda?

UPDATE: The good folks at Piazza have contacted me to tell me that Piazza has integration with both Moodle and Facebook connect.  I haven’t looked into the details yet, but if so, that would at least address the concern about “one more account to remember.”  There is still the question of whether it’s worth using Piazza rather than an alternative service.  But given student dislike of Moodle, I imagine they’d prefer Piazza to Moodle, at least.

Schoology, referred to above, is a free LMS (course management system).  As an alternative to the better known Moodle, it has the advantage that can be used by just one teacher (doesn’t have to be installed/purchased by a school system) and is available entirely online.

Cross posted in my ProfPat blog.

Learn by Writing Multiple Choice Questions

Peerwise, a free online app developed and widely used in Australia, encourages students to create multiple choice questions. Students must provide at least four possible answers and a justification for the answer they think is correct.  Other students then comment on the question, evaluating its strengths and weaknesses. Peerwise seems to used by many math and science instructors at university level.

David Korfhage at ED: Social Media discusses the pros and cons of Peerwise (post dated 7/29/12):

Pros: By forcing students to write their own questions, as well as explanations for the answers, Peerwise forces students to process the material more actively.  Writing questions will also help prepare students for multiple choice assessments, and with proper modeling, they can also use their question writing to work on analytical thinking (and not just recall questions).  The social aspects and competitive/gaming aspects could be fun for some students.

Cons: The focus on just multiple choice questions is fairly narrow, and could tend to encourage students to focus on convergent, rather than more open-ended questions.  In a history class, students already tend to see the learning history as a matter of memorizing facts; used improperly, Peerwise could merely encourage that way of thinking.

Bottom line:  Since I use multiple choice questions in my classes (if for no other reason than to give students practice for the multiple choice college board exams), this looks like this could be a useful tool.  I have in the past encouraged students to write their own multiple choice questions as a way of studying; the social aspects of this site could make it more enjoyable for students to do that.  Again, a structure well be necessary: Peerwise recommends a minimum question contribution requirement, to which I would add clear guidance about writing multiple choice questions.  In particular, students need to understand that questions should not be just about memorizing facts.

Cross posted in my ProfPat blog.

Annotate PDFs – Uses in Grading

In Grading with my iPad,  the author says he first converts all his students’ papers (submitted digitally) to PDFs, then imports them into iAnnotate ($10 for iPad, free for Android) which has lots of tools such as text comments, lines, and stamps (for importing a graphic).  Apparently you can use your fingers to “write” annotations in iAnnotate as well as using iPad’s keyboard.   Author uses a Pogo Sketch stylus to make writing on the iPad easier.  In Prof. Yearwood’s article “App of the Week Review: iAnnotate PDF“, which provides a comprehensive description of the features, he claims you can also add a voice recorded note.

iAnnote’s usefulness is not limited to grading.  It is also handy for annotating articles you wish to study or adding notes to PDF versions of PowerPoint.  iAnnotate syncs with Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and Microsoft’s SkyDrive, thus making a wide range of PDFs easily available.  According to an article at PRweb, iAnnotate is used by 600,000 people worldwide and has been purchased by many universities for use by their students.

From the description of iAnnotate in the ProfHacker blog (6/4/10), the tools in iAnnotate look very similar to ones I use in the free PDF Xchange Viewer (download desktop version from Tracker Software or a portable version from Softonic).   Both apps allow the saved annotated version of the PDF to be read in Adobe Reader, etc. with all the annotations visible .  iAnnotate is only available for tablets, while PDF Xchange Viewer is limited to Windows computers . I like the text annotation tools in PDF Xchange better because comments can be placed in any white space available and are always viewable.  With iAnnotate, the text Comments are in a special box which is only visible when you click a red bubble in the text. See screenshots for both apps below.




A Feminist MOOC/DOCC

An unusual MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) exploring feminism and technology is being organized for the 2013 fall semester.  Unlike typical MOOCs, this one is being organized by a large collective of feminist scholars and will be offered as a credit course at 15 or more universities worldwide.  Hence, it is being denominated as a MOOC/DOCC (Distributed Online Collaborative Course). A large series of Boundary Objects that Learn (BOTL) are being developed by members of the collective, and each Professor at the participating universities will choose which BOTLs to assign her students.

The “Feminist Dialogues on Technology”  MOOC/DOCC will be a 10 week course, each week centered on a video discussion by ‘experts’ on the following topics: Archive, Body, Ethics, Difference, Discipline, Labor, Place, Race, Sexualities, Transformation.  One can enroll as a student at one of specific university sites, enroll for independent study (get your own professor to provide credit at your home university), or just be a self-directed / drop-in learner without course credit.  Info from FAQ for FemTechNet.

The collaborative, collective development of the course is being organized by FemTechNet – “a network of international scholars and artists activated by Alexandra Juhasz and Anne Balsamo to design, implement, and teach the first DOCC (Distributed Online Collaborative Course), a feminist rethinking of the MOOC. . . This project uses technology to enable interdisciplinary and international conversation while privileging situated diversity and networked agency. Building the course on a shared set of recorded dialogues with the world’s preeminent thinkers and artists who consider technology through a feminist lens, the rest of the course will be built, and customized for the network’s local classrooms and communities, by network members who submit and evaluate Boundary Objects that Learn—the course’s basic pedagogic instruments. FemTechNet invites interested scholars and artists to join this project and help build this course. “ Source: NITLE.

Related Sources

To learn More about this Feminist MOOC

Analyzing Infographics: Simple Technique for Online Video Lesson

Just discovered “Picturing Information” a 4 minute video which analyzes an Infographic depicting per cent of mothers of 4-year-olds who work outside the home. After pausing to give viewers time to study the infographic and make their own analysis, author analyzes the infographic: Why does child have sad face? Why is mother pictured as a professional (vs blue collar job)?

The video is a good example of how to analyze infographics (or other graphics) for hidden messages.  Furthermore, it employs a very simple technique for creating a video to serve as an online lesson.  In many discussions of the ‘flipped classroom’ (where instructor records and posts a lecture for students to study before class so that classroom time can be used for actual discussion or hands-on activities), the tools involved are quite sophisticated and/or expensive.  But the technique here is easily available to anyone sitting at their home computer who has a smart phone or digital camera that records video.

One can easily adapt the technique of this video to use with widely available PowerPoint.  Just insert the infographic (or poem or short text) in a slide, record your narration, then convert to video (this function included in MS Office 2010 and later).