Research questions on MOOCs: Who’s talking, who’s completing, and where’s the teaching?

December 14, 2012 at 10:54 am 9 comments

In the last three weeks, I was asked several times at MIT and Stanford about what questions I would like answered about MOOCs.  I didn’t get any answers, but folks at Georgia Tech were asking me about the questions, so I thought I’d share some of them here.  This is the evidence I’m looking for.

What’s the value of the discussion forum in a MOOC?  What percentage of students participate in the discussion forum?  What’s the correlation between participation in the forum and completing? I’ve heard people say that that’s where the “teaching” and learning takes place, but I would like evidence of that. I’ve mentioned here that I used to work in computer-supported collaborative learning in the early 2000’s, and some of our work showed that students posted about 1 note every two weeks most on-line forums (even when students were measurably learning). That’s not really enough posting for a dialog and collaborative learning. Is it the same for MOOCs?  We also found that students were LESS likely to participate in on-line collaborative learning forums when the subject was Engineering or CS.  Is that true for MOOCs as well?
What are the demographics of completers in a MOOC?  We already have a problem of CS being mostly White/Asian and Male.  (Lots of reasons why that is a problem: From equity and fairness, to tapping into the fastest growing demographics vs the fastest shrinking demographics, to involving more diversity in design decisions.)  I suspect that MOOCs are even more Male than face-to-face classes (based on the factors that we know lead to broadening participation in computing).   If I’m right, then investing more in MOOCs is counter to our community’s goals to broaden and diversify computing.
Is there any teaching going on?  Overall, I’d really like to know more about the characteristics of people who complete MOOCs, e.g., how many are working full-time when taking the MOOC, how many hours a week are spent on homework in order to complete, what is the background of completers in terms of other degrees?  Right now, MOOCs are just for autodidacts.  Do we want Computer Science to only be for autodidacts?  Don’t we believe that teaching allows people to succeed who might not succeed on their own?  (Isn’t that the definition of scaffolding?)  Are MOOCs really teaching, or are they filtering out the people who couldn’t learn on their own?  If we want MOOCs to be for more than just those who don’t really need the teacher anyway, then we need to measure who is going in, what they know already, and what they learn at the end (and if they “come out,” i.e., complete).

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A new resource for CS teachers doing Peer Instruction Is learning a programming language like becoming bilingual?

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mgozaydin  |  December 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    OLD ONLINE Courses have been proviced for the last 20 years,
    at very high price $ 1,500
    quality of the schools mostly not to satisfaction
    They even awarded degrees
    For pğrofits made $ 1 billion profit only one school
    For 20 years nobody questioned .

    Now NEW ONLINE COURSES are being provided by elite schools
    at a small fee, with certificate, everybody asks questions ” good or bad ”

    It is much better than OLD ONLINE COURSES .

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  December 14, 2012 at 5:44 pm

      I have seen no evidence that the new online classes are better than the Open University’s classes. That’s just speculation.

  • 3. nickfalkner  |  December 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    It’s not quite MOOC but we’ve been monitoring the discussion forums used in Piazza as part of our team-based learning open-ended question work for one of our remote campuses in Singapore. What’s interesting is that the ‘discuss first/contribute to composite solution second’ model appears to cause a lot more discussion and collaboration because we need metacognitive aspects to organise the information, get group agreement and consensus and so on.

    We’re still going through the numbers but over the last 25 days there have been 318 messages which correspond to multiple sentence/paragraph contributions from 40 students. Yes, some students are more vocal than others but being required to reach consensus (and being encouraged to contribute) as part of the solution building process seems to drive the numbers up far further than any of our usual forums.

  • 4. Paul Buis  |  December 15, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Anyone out there trying to leverage a MOOC into traditional class? Maybe requiring your students to consume material from the MOOC and then discussing in class and having separate tests and homework.

  • […] provided, either canned (the system knows what’s right and wrong) or through peer-evaluation. There is typically some kind of forum for questions and answers, and is a key part of the connectivist MOOC for “nurturing and maintaining […]

  • 7. tonykcb  |  January 5, 2013 at 10:49 am

    High quality schools will always have a place in the educational world, blending seamlessly with the moocs they have pioneered. The low end of educational provision will suffer, though drop out rates have always been higher anyway. Moocs will probably attract a student body which is struggling to afford and complete a college level education.

  • […] Research questions on MOOCs: Who’s talking, who’s completing, and where’s the teac… ( […]

  • […] has a nice article about autodidacts — yes, there are some, but most of us aren’t.  MOOCs are mostly for autodidacts.  The paper from Educational Psychologist is excellent, and I reading the original as well as […]


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