Data Mining Exposes Embarrassing Problems For Massive Open Online Courses: There is no dialogue

January 17, 2014 at 1:49 am 7 comments

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.

via Data Mining Exposes Embarrassing Problems For Massive Open Online Courses | MIT Technology Review.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rita  |  January 17, 2014 at 2:56 am

    I have started some MOOCs myself, have finished one of them and rarely posted anything in the forums. For me, the MOOCs are a fantastic source of knowledge, professionally prepared materials and learning opportunities. I think I can get a lot out of these MOOCs without discussing, or when discussing the topics with my colleagues.
    The few times I decided to have a look at the forums (since we all get pointed to them in all MOOCS), it is such a huge amount of information, even when there are threads, they are not necessarily about the indicated topic. I prefer the clean, prepared course structure and do not want to invest much time in worming my way through the many messages.
    Just my thoughts.

  • 2. BenK  |  January 17, 2014 at 7:27 am

    This isn’t news to anyone who has actually participated in a MOOC. I’ve taken several, on different platforms, and the discussion tends to be a bit thin. EdX had the best discussion, and even there, a good part of it was addressing technical challenges; after that, it was more about students pinging the TFs (teaching assistants) for help with individual problems.
    I think that there is typically a somewhat naive expectation among students of some rambling, erudite debate, but the sheer volume of trivial questions at the start swamps the signal of interesting conversation. As things progress, if the course is good, just watching videos and doing the work takes a substantial commitment – so discussion becomes a means to that end, not something entered into for the joy of it. Meanwhile, those people who were looking for great discussion have already backed off the forums.
    These dynamics drive a continuing decline in discussion.

    The good news is that this is a system that can get tuned. I’m very disappointed with all the rush to bury MOOCs prematurely, for just as many bad reasons as other people have been rushing to trumpet them from the hilltops prematurely. They are a format in progress and require innovation and effort, not condemnation.

  • 3. shriramkrishnamurthi  |  January 17, 2014 at 7:39 am

    The problem I had w/ my MOOC was that in the first week there wasn’t enough actual work (I was waiting for Brown students to settle into courses), and the discussion groups went to hell with rambling: quantum computing, what not (in a programming languages course). I realized that the MOOC forums had become just another venue for the people who love to ramble on on the Internet. Those people killed the forums for just about all the Brown students (for whom I ended up having to go back to traditional mechanisms), and probably also a lot of the on-line crowd.

  • 4. lizaloop  |  January 18, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    What’s so important about forum participation? Why is its decrease an “embarrassing problem”? More important is the ability of MOOC students to pace themselves by enrolling, dropping out and then enrolling at a more convenient time.

    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  January 20, 2014 at 9:28 am

      Modern learning theories (like social constructivism and situated learning) emphasize the role of dialog and community in learning. My interest in dialog comes from work by Jeremy Roschelle and Michelene Chi which showed how dyads can develop knowledge, even if neither of the participants had the true knowledge themselves. I wrote a paper for CSCL some years ago describing how most CSCL environments don’t lead to enough dialog to lead to learning, given our theory of social construction of knowledge.

  • 6. VanessaVaile  |  January 20, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    Reblogged this on MOOC Madness and commented:
    no surprise to anyone who has actually endured the experience of the average MOOC forum…

  • 7. dennisfrailey  |  January 21, 2014 at 8:17 am

    This is entirely consistent with my experience as an instructor of on line courses. To overcome this I’ve quit trying to encourage student intteraction and, instead, focused on student communication. I’ve had to become highly creative in the assignments I give the students. I require them to do some sort of work related to the class and then report on the results in the form of a written document (an essay, a plan, a report, etc.). I grade it in large part on how cogently and clearly the document is written. Interestingly enough, in some cases the students are so anxious to avoid too much writing that they offer to collaborate if they can have a group report!


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