Success in MOOCs: Talk offline is important for learning

July 5, 2013 at 1:08 am 4 comments

That students who had offline help did the best in this MOOC study is not surprising.  Sir John Daniel reported in Mega-Universities that face-to-face tutors was the largest line item in the Open University UK’s budget.  But the fact that 90% of the students didn’t talk online (a statistic that is similar to what Tucker Balch found) says that success in MOOCs may be more about talking offline than online.

“On average, with all other predictors being equal, a student who worked offline with someone else in the class or someone who had expertise in the subject would have a predicted score almost three points higher than someone working by him or herself,” write the authors.The correlation, described by the authors as the “strongest” in the data set, was limited to a single instance of a particular MOOC, and is not exactly damning to the format. But it nonetheless may give ammunition to critics who say human tutelage remains essential to a good education.Other findings could also raise eyebrows. For example, the course’s discussion forum was largely the dominion of a relatively small group of engaged users; most students simply lurked. “It should be stressed that over 90 percent of the activity on the discussion forum resulted from students who simply viewed pre-existing discussion threads, without posting questions, answers, or comments,” the authors write.

via MOOC Students Who Got Offline Help Scored Higher, Study Finds – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  July 5, 2013 at 9:28 am

    In the early 90s I did some looking into online communities. At the time I worked for Digital Equipment which had a huge (for the time) online community. What I found then was that those who participated in online discussions were about 10% of the total community. Some had more and others less but 10% was the average. This seems to remain constant.

  • 2. Garth  |  July 6, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    “Lurking” is very common in a regular “live” math class. The majority of the students will sit like bumps on a log unless questioned directly. They are not going to speak up and embarrass themselves by demonstrating ignorance. I found this even more common in the college math courses I teach. College students will sit there for 50 minutes and write down stuff they do not understand. The only time I get unprompted interaction is with non-tradition students. Get some older students that are paying their own way and who do not care if it is not “cool” to not know what is going on and a class will take off. In a small discussion group or with a tutor kids are not quite so reluctant to speak up. The same can be said of blogs like this. How many readers are there compared to contributors? Many people have something to contribute but are afraid they will sound like an idiot. Then there are people like me who already know they are an idiot so making some doofy comment does not bother us.

    Anyway, this study only confirms what teaching experience has told us for years.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  July 6, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      I get the same thing in my computer science classes. That’s why I’ve adopted peer instruction and have tried to invent similar CS-speciic mechanisms in my courses that require students to talk and engage. Interesting question: What would be the analogous activities in the online world? That’s what I hear Hake asking in his critiques of MOOCs.

    • 4. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  July 6, 2013 at 9:25 pm

      The view-to-comment ratio on my blog is 125-to-1.

      In my in-person classes, everyone physically present participates (I use cold calling sometimes to make sure of that). Because I have a terrible memory for names, I could not do cold calling in class of 50 students.

      Peer instruction supposedly helps get more involvement, and I’ve tried a little of that in my circuits class, but I’m not completely sold on the techniques I’ve tried so far. I’ll try some variants next year, and see which ones I think are leading to learning and not just social engagement.


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