Making MOOCs work on campus

Ithaka S+R logoWhat can we do with MOOCs in 2014, after that bubble has popped?

In “Interactive Online Learning on Campus: Testing MOOCs and Other Platforms in Hybrid Formats in the University System of Maryland” (pdf) Rebecca Griffiths, Matthew Chingos, Christine, and Mulhern Richard Spies describe studying hybrid learning experiments at the University of Maryland. Building on two previous Ithaka MOOC studies, they conclude that MOOCs can support hybrid learning on campus.

Let me dig into some of the findings.

Overall, my major takeaway is this: “online technology can be used to deliver hybrid courses with reduced class time without compromising student outcomes”. Put another way, “MOOCs can offer benefits to instructors and students when embedded in campus-based courses”.

faculty can take advantage of existing online content—sometimes created by professors at other institutions—to redesign their courses and benefit their students [emphasis added

Students in the hybrids did as well or statistically better on a variety of scores: “pass rates, scores on common assessments (a final exam or post-test administered as part of the study), and grades”.

And these are seriously hybrid classes, shifting a major amount of time from the physical classroom to online: “hybrid sections had on average 72 minutes of class time per week, compared to 126 for traditional sections”.

This has major implications.  First, it strengthens arguments for blended/hybrid learning.  Second, the decrease in f2f time will surely appeal to financially stressed campuses (and not a few instructors).  Third, it’s a vindication for remix pedagogy, although not necessarily for open; to their credit, the Ithaka team are careful with this.

We can imagine a progression in which faculty gain familiarity with what MOOCs can offer (perhaps without the MOOC label) and grow more open to using these materials in different ways to solve problems for their students.

On the student side, the study found that students preferred face-to-face to hybrid classes, even as they scored better!    This not true for academically at-risk students, who actually preferred the hybrid.  No, it was the most academically prepared, “whose parents have college degrees, who had higher than average SAT scores”, and the whitest learners, who wanted to go back to an entirely face-to-face environment.

Note this socio-economic aspect well, because there’s more:

These findings of small positive or zero effects of taking the hybrid version of a course held true for all important subgroups we examined, including those from low-income families, under-represented minorities, first-generation college students, and those with weaker academic preparation.

This goes against the Teachers College MOOC-only findings, which saw less well prepared students faring badly in that environment.

On the faculty side, this report supports my sense that MOOCs are best analogized as textbooks, repurposeable and remixable curricular contents.

The Maryland faculty seemed to have a more positive experience than did their students. Asked “Would you like to use a MOOC in your teaching again?” 15 instructors said yes, 1 no, 3 maybe.  “We were struck by how positively the faculty members who participated in this study described their experiences with MOOCs.”

Perhaps the leading problems professors had concerned their sense of the MOOCs and OLI materials’ futures.  Which is a good worry to have.

On the technology side, it seems that learning management systems proved a problem to work with.  Instructors had a hard time figuring out how to connect their courses to MOOCs, and tech staff had to do some work to make it all flow.  Maryland seems to have been using Blackboard during the study; maybe their next LMS will fare better.

Questions from me:

  • Will the current atmosphere of academic pressure (financial, demographic, political) be sufficient to move campus administration to support such MOOC-hybrid projects?  The report recommends this (“Encouraging such adoption would require a system of incentives and rewards for the faculty—and their respective departments—that take fullest advantage of such opportunities. This system would have to be established by the [campus] administration and aligned with clearly established strategic plans and goals”).  An goes further: “course redesigns must be part of broader strategic initiatives in order to have substantial and sustained impact”.
  • The report’s conclusions seems to back away from its initial assertions.  At the end the authors aver that “We did not find any significant differences in measurable outcomes for students in hybrid sections compared to those taught in traditional face-to-face formats.”  But this goes against the previous discussion.  What happened?
  • Are campus IT departments prepared to help faculty integrate MOOCs into their courses?
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2 Responses to Making MOOCs work on campus

  1. Bryan: Thank you for the analysis! I’ll share your blog with others who are designing MOOCs and campus leaders who have to make decisions on this topic.


  2. Maha Bali says:

    Hi Bryan, thanks for this. I will look at the report itself in more depth but there are a few questions I have: when they describe the way MOOC marerial is being reused, doesn’t it look a lot like it would be better to work with OERs that are designed for remixing/repurposing? So rather than have to work with a particular MOOC, work with a repository of material that is designed to be reused?

    I would also like to hear more details about how this was all implemented, than generalize across courses. E.g. How was it done for an intro to physics course that normally seats 100 students vs. A seminar in history taught in groups of 12? Vs a graduate course in economics, you know? Maybe all that is in the report…

    Finally: the whole financial solution thing is worrying if it means things like hiring fewer adjuncts or paying them less for spending less f2f time…

    Am I missing something here?


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