MOOCs today are about less data for the teacher

June 11, 2013 at 1:14 am 9 comments

My former student, Jeff Rick, has posted a reflection on MOOCs (on Facebook, so I can’t easily link to it from here), with an important point:

There’s an additional element that strikes me as critically missing from MOOCs: feedback to the instructor. Teaching is not about throwing good information out into the world; if so, Wikipedia (or public libraries a la Goodwill Hunting) would make formal education unnecessary. It is about making sure that the students get something out of it. For me, that requires a feedback cycle: realizing what problems students have, changing your teaching to meet their needs / interests, realizing and correcting your mistakes, etc.

Peter Norvig has said that he did the first AI MOOC with Sebastian Thrun explicitly to get more feedback.  He was working on a revision for his AI textbook, and he didn’t want to just build it again and throw it into the world.  By offering the book/course as a MOOC, he was able to get fine-grained data from many students on how they were using his book.

Teachers offering courses via Coursera or Udacity today get quite little data.  The data is all captured behind corporate walls.  I talked to Tucker Balch about the data he was gathering from his Coursera course “Computational Investing.”  He said that he had the right to survey his students, but Coursera didn’t share any data that they had on the students.  He got data on numbers of unique registrants, percent that took the first homework, percent that completed, etc.  But nothing about how students did on particular problems, or how long they spent reviewing any particular video.  No data that would help you figure out, “Hmm, I don’t think that’s working for the students.”

Isn’t that surprising, that in era of “Big Data,” MOOCs would be about “little data” getting back to the teacher who can most easily improve the course?

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. nickfalkner  |  June 11, 2013 at 1:54 am

    Very interesting point, Mark, thank you. As you may know, we use Piazza for some thing but the amount of information we can get out, beyond what they choose to give us, has been actually quite small. My immediate concern is that richer data may, in fact, be part of a future ‘premium’ package for some of these systems. (The sound of the other shoe dropping often seems to sound like money, doesn’t it?)

    We have some students working on dashboards for students at the moment, but each of these must have a corresponding analog for the teacher, with a wider view. Of course, I’ve just realised that I have no teacher dashboard information on student dashboard use so I just have to dash off and fix that.

  • 2. Ben Waugh (@benwaughuk)  |  June 11, 2013 at 6:49 am

    Wow! Lecturers can’t see how students did on particular problems? Can’t see their marks, or look at their submissions? If so, that is really depressing.

    • 3. mgozaydin  |  June 17, 2013 at 5:24 pm

      On the contrary. Teachers know even how you breath in front of the screen .

  • 5. Alfred Thompson  |  June 11, 2013 at 7:53 am

    I’ve been wondering about this. I’ve been wondering the same thing about systems that automatically grade programs. On one hand grading programs can be difficult, time consuming and even frustrating but on the other hand doing so really helps one understand what students are “getting” and what they need help with. That is valuable information for someone who cares about making sure students learn.

  • 6. Tucker R Balch  |  June 11, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Mark did correctly quote me. But that reflected my opinion as of about nine months ago (which is years in internet time). Since that time coursera has evolved and I receive all the data I want, in fact more data than I can process.

    So, overall I agree with Mark that information is essential, but I think MOOC providers are delivering the information we need.

    Tucker Balch
    Associate Professor
    Georgia Tech

  • 7. mgozaydin  |  June 17, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    You are 100 % wrong .
    On MOOCs classes teachers gather data 100 times more than f2f .
    They know how many people start the course at 11 pm or 2 am
    How quick they read or write. How good they are in grammer , on punctuations etc .
    They can answer 3000 questions about the students behaviour in front of the screen . Plus forums .

    • 8. Mark Guzdial  |  June 17, 2013 at 5:55 pm

      In MOOCs, they have lots of data. How much gets to the teacher? And does the right kind of data get to the teacher? That’s the question that Jeff Rick is asking.

  • 9. The Spectrum of Opinion About MOOCs | EdTechDev  |  November 15, 2013 at 9:22 am

    […] MOOCs today are about less data for the teacher – Mark Guzdial […]


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