Posts tagged ‘MOOCs’
Important article that gets at some of my concerns about using MOOCs to inform education research. The sampling bias mentioned in the article below is one of my responses to the claim that we can inform education research by analyzing the results of MOOCs. We can only learn from the data of participants. If 90% of the students go away, we can’t learn about them. Making claims about computing education based on the 10% who complete a CS MOOC (and mostly white/Asian, male, wealthy, and well-educated at that) is bad science.
Cheerleaders for big data have made four exciting claims, each one reflected in the success of Google Flu Trends: that data analysis produces uncannily accurate results; that every single data point can be captured, making old statistical sampling techniques obsolete; that it is passé to fret about what causes what, because statistical correlation tells us what we need to know; and that scientific or statistical models aren’t needed because, to quote “The End of Theory”, a provocative essay published in Wired in 2008, “with enough data, the numbers speak for themselves”.
Unfortunately, these four articles of faith are at best optimistic oversimplifications. At worst, according to David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge university, they can be “complete bollocks. Absolute nonsense.”
The report on the CCC’s workshop on MOOCs and other online education technologies is now out.
In February 2013 the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) sponsored the Workshop on Multidisciplinary Research for Online Education (MROE). This visioning activity explored the research opportunities at the intersection of the learning sciences, and the many areas of computing, to include human-computer interactions, social computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and modeling and simulation.
The workshop was motivated and informed by high profile activities in massive, open, online education (MOOE). Point values of “massive” and “open” are extreme values that make explicit, in ways not fully appreciated previously, variability along multiple dimensions of scale and openness.
The report for MROE has been recently completed and is online. It summarizes the workshop activities and format, and synthesizes across these activities, elaborating on 4 recurring themes:
- Next Generation MOOCs and Beyond MOOCs
- Evolving Roles and Support for Instructors
- Characteristics of Online and Physical Modalities
- Physical and Virtual Community
I thought John Hennessy’s quote below was remarkable, and quite different from his tsunami rhetoric of just last July. I was also struck by this quote later in the piece: “MOOCs are basically the 21st-century equivalent of reading a bunch of books and saying you got a degree.”
“Two words are wrong in ‘MOOC’: massive and open,” Stanford President John Hennessy said in a widely noted interview with the Financial Times.
At Tufts University outside Boston, members of the schools of arts and sciences and faculty in the engineering department approved a policyin December that would allow more Web-based classes to be used toward graduation. But Tufts instructors stopped short of joining the world of MOOCs.
“So much of the big conversation around the country is around these massive online courses, and from our perspective, we don’t see evidence that that’s a model that leads to real learning,” Education Policy Committee head David Hammer told The Tufts Daily, the school newspaper. “If I had 750 students, if I had 7,500 students I’m not going to hear and respond to student thinking.”
An interesting blog post by an important CS researcher in programming languages and software engineering, but with a deep misperception about teaching. Teaching is not presentation. Making “production” better doesn’t make the teaching more effective. Student engagement pedagogies are likely to make teaching more effective, but it’s still an open question how to make those happen in a MOOC.
But the presenter of a MOOC is not likely to be a passive player in the same sense. Video is a dynamic medium, that used well can establish a significant emotional connection between the speaker and the audience. This is already clear in some MOOCs, and as production gets better and better this emotional quality of the courses will only improve.
What’s more, MOOC instructors are always at their best. They never have an off day. They never have a pressing grant deadline. All those bad takes got edited out. The students will also always hear them clearly, and when they don’t, the MOOC instructor will patiently repeat what they said. As many times as the student wants.
I’m completely open to the idea that completion rates are the wrong measures of success for MOOCs. But I do believe that we need some measure. What would success for MOOCs mean? How do we know if it’s being achieved? Or if it’s a waste of time and money?
In the meantime, the Harvard and MIT researchers said they hoped the new studies would help people understand that technology and scale are not the only things that distinguish MOOCs from other kinds of higher education.
“People are projecting their own desires onto MOOCs,” said Mr. Ho, “and then holding them accountable for criteria that the instructors and institutions and, most importantly, students don’t hold for themselves.”
Interesting data about who’s online, and who’s not, and how income plays a role in that. 85% of Americans are online. The biggest reasons that the last 15% don’t participate is because of a sense of irrelevance of the Internet and because of perceived complexity, i.e., poor usability.
The link below is about the interaction between Internet access and age. These results speak to the promise of and limitations of MOOCs, as was also seen in some of the San Jose State reports. Low-income users often access the Internet via the library or cellphone, which changes the expectation for using MOOCs.
Aaron Smith, Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, discusses the Project’s latest research about internet usage, broadband adoption, and the impact of mobile connectivity among lower-income populations.
Interesting article studying the lack of discussion in MOOC discussion forums. I’m surprised that the teacher involvement doesn’t improve matters. It may be that the scale swamps out the teacher demonstrating value for the discussion. Our past work in CSCL suggests that the culture of the class (e.g., the subject, the rewards structure, etc.) influences discussion behavior, and that they’d get more on-target discussion with anchored collaboration.
These guys have studied the behaviour in online discussion forums of over 100,000 students taking massive open online courses (or MOOCs).
And they have depressing news. They say that participation falls precipitously and continuously throughout a course and that almost half of registered students never post more than twice to the forums. What’s more, the participation of a teacher doesn’t improve matters. Indeed, they say there is some evidence that a teacher’s participation in an online discussion actually increases the rate of decline.
Interesting results, and nice to hear that the new initiative will be named for Herb Simon.
The Science of Learning Center, known as LearnLab, has already collected more than 500,000 hours’ worth of student data since it initially received funding from the National Science Foundation about nine years ago, its director Ken Koedinger said. That number translates to about 200 million times when students of a variety of age groups and subject areas have clicked on a graph, typed an equation or solved a puzzle.
The center collects studies conducted on data gathered from technology-enhanced courses in algebra, chemistry, Chinese, English as a second language, French, geometry and physics in an open wiki.
One such study showed that students performed better in algebra if asked to explain what they learned in their own words, for example. In another study, physics students who took time answering reflection questions performed better on tests than their peers.
Interesting where AT&T is making its investments: $1.6M from AT&T to expand access to software engineering curriculum in high school, in comparison with $2M to setup OMS at GT.
Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott today announced that AT&T will donate $1.6 million to expand software engineering curriculum for students in 12 New York City public high schools across the five boroughs. The contribution to the Fund for Public Schools builds on the work of the Software Engineering Pilot and will support the launch of a new enrichment program for 9th graders, paid summer internships for high school students and other academic activities like boot camps and hackathons.
The initiative is a next step in the Administration’s work to develop programs that provide students with skills they need to thrive in college and to enter the computer and engineering workforce. The Mayor and Chancellor made the announcement at the Urban Assembly Gateway for Technology School in Manhattan, where the programming will begin next year. They were joined by Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot, New York City Economic Development Corporation President Kyle Kimball and AT&T New York State President Marissa Shorenstein.
I don’t really have a problem with this. Make the presentation in the videos as attractive as possible. Just remember Herb Simon’ s quote: “Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.” Doesn’t matter if it’s Agarwal or Damon doing the lecture — that’s not the critical part.
“From what I hear, really good actors can actually teach really well,” said Anant Agarwal, CEO of EdX, who was until recently a computer-science professor at MIT. “So just imagine, maybe we get Matt Damon to teach Thévenin’s theorem,” he added, referring to a concept that Agarwal covers in a MOOC he teaches on circuits and electronics. “I think students would enjoy that more than taking it from Agarwal.”
Casting Damon in a MOOC is just an idea, for now: In meetings, officials have proposed trying one run of a course with someone like Damon, to see how it goes. But even to consider swapping in a star actor for a professor reveals how much these free online courses are becoming major media productions—ones that may radically change the traditional role of professors.
We’ve heard about this problem before: Online courses don’t reach the low-income students who most need them, because they don’t have access to the technology on-ramp. This was an issue in the San Jose State experiment.
That’s because the technology required for online courses isn’t always easily accessible or affordable for these students. Although the course may be cheaper than classroom-based courses, the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education argues in a report released Wednesday low-income students might still have a harder time accessing it.
“We have to wrap our heads around the fact that we can’t make assumptions that this will be so simple because everyone will just fire up their computers and do the work,” says Lillian Taiz, a professor at California State University, Los Angeles, and president of the California Faculty Association.
Many students, Taiz says, don’t have computers at home, high-speed Internet access, smart phones, or other technologies necessary to access course content.
The US News article suggests Google Chromebooks as an answer — cheap and effective. The Indian government is trying an even cheaper tablet solution. Could you use one of these to access MOOCs?
The Indian government realized a few years ago that the technology industry had no motivation to cater to the needs of the poor. With low cost devices, the volume of shipments would surely increase, but margins would erode to the point that it wasn’t worthwhile for the big players. So, India decided to design its own low-cost computer. In July 2010, the government unveiled the prototype of a $35 handheld touch-screen tablet and offered to buy 100,000 units from any vendor that would manufacture them at this price. It promised to have these to market within a year and then purchase millions more for students.
I know faculty at both KSU and SPSU. My PhD student, Briana Morrison, is faculty at SPSU. No one that I spoke to had any idea this was happening. These aren’t small schools. SPSU is one of the few universities in Georgia with a publicly-funded engineering program. KSU+SPSU is considerably larger than Georgia Tech. Is this part of the consolidation of higher education foretold by the MOOCopalyptic visions?
Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University will consolidate to form a new institution to be named Kennesaw State University. The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia will be asked by Chancellor Hank Huckaby to approve the consolidation plan during its upcoming November meeting.
“We must continue to carefully examine our structure and programs to ensure we have the right model that best serves our students and the state,” Huckaby said. “This proposal offers us some exciting possibilities to enlarge our academic outreach through the existing talent and resources at both these institutions.”
The decision to consolidate the two institutions, whose combined enrollment this fall is 31,178 students and combined annual economic impact on the region is $1.15 billion
Lisa Kaczmarczyk wrote a blog post about a bunch of the private, for-profit groups teaching CS who visited the ACM Education Council meeting on Nov. 2. I quoted below the section where the Ed Council asked tough questions about evaluation. I wonder if the private efforts to educate mean the same things about evaluation as the academic and research folks mean by “evaluation.” There are different goals and different value systems between each. Learning for all in public education is very different from a privatized MOOC where it’s perfectly okay for 1-10% to complete.
Of course there was controversy; members of the Ed Council asked all of the panelists some tough questions. One recurrent theme had to do with how they know what they are doing works. Evaluation how? what kind? what makes sense? what is practical? is an ongoing challenge in any pedagogical setting and when you are talking about a startup as 3 out of the 4 companies on the panel were in the fast paced world of high tech – its tricky. Some panelists addressed this question better than others. Needless to say I spent quite a bit of time on this – it was one of the longer topics of discussion over dinner at my table.
Neil Fraser from Googles Blockly project said some things that were unquestionably controversial. The one that really got me was when he said several times, and with followup detail that one of the things they had learned was to ignore user feedback. I can’t remember his exact words after that but the idea seemed to be that users didnt know what was best for them. Coming on the heels of earlier comments that were less than tactful about computing degree programs and their graduates … I have to give Neil credit for having the guts to share his views.
Great blog post that really captures the most important criticism of MOOCs (thanks to Karen Head for forwarding it). We had Armando Fox of Berkeley’s “MOOC” Center visit (video of his GVU Brown Bag talk), and he said explicitly in his talk, “MOOCs are not about democratization of education. They’re really about the rich getting richer.” I blogged on these themes this month for Blogs@CACM: Results from the first-year course MOOCs: Not there yet
Worst of all, they may become a convenient excuse for giving up on the reforms needed to provide broad access to affordable higher education. The traditional kind, that is, which for all its problems still affords graduates higher chances of employment and long-term economic advantages.
Seen from this perspective, the techno-democratization of education looks like a cover story for its aristocratization. MOOCs aren’t digital keys to great classrooms’ doors. At best, they are infomercials for those classrooms. At worst, they are digital postcards from gated communities.
This is why I am a MOOC dissenter. More than a revolution, so far this movement reminds me of a different kind of disruption: colonialism.