Thursday, November 21, 2013

MOOCs and The Student Experience

I will be speaking on "MOOCs and The Student Experience" at the Inaugural Student Experience Conference, in Sydney on the 4 December 2013:
The role of MOOCs within the concept of blended learning and their impact on the student experience
  • Outlining the challenges as well as the opportunities associated with MOOCs with regard to the student experience
  • Understanding the difference between the two kinds of MOOCS - xMOOCs and cMOOCs and why this is important

Stephen Downes proposed the cMOOC ("connectivity"  MOOC) as a term for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) which focus on knowledge creation, and xMOOC for ones with just knowledge duplication. ("MOOCs are really a platform", Stephen Downes, July 25, 2012). The xMOOC tag is used pejoratively to refer to a course which just uses video to deliver information to passive students, whereas the cMOOC has them more actively participating. I don't find this distinction very useful. Arguments about passive students, creativity, class size are not new to education, nor are arguments about the relative benefits of face-to-face v on-line, synchronous v asynchronous.

What I find worrying is that those arguing about different forms of "MOOC" do not appear to draw on decades of experience in delivering on-line courses and one hundred years of distance and adult education which preceded it.

Last year I had the unusual experience of being a student at three higher education institutions simultaneously, enrolled in both on-line and face-to-face courses, as well as undertaking RPL. At the same time I was on the teaching staff of two institutions, teaching on-line and face-to-face. The most valuable lesson I learned in two years being a student of Higher Education was how hard it was being a student. This is something educators and administrators tend to forget. What was most frustrating was when poor administrative systems made being a student unnecessarily hard.

After experiencing well designed on-line student administration and learning management systems, I found my tolerance for poor systems very low. The effect well designed MOOCs are likely to have is to increase student's expectations of the level of support they receive.

Flip The Student Experience for  Blended Learning

Recently I was asked about designing courses which could be delivered both on-line and face-to-face. I suggested starting by designing pure on-line courses and then adding face-to-face components to make them blended. I have used this approach at and it works fine. I suggest the same be applied to student administration: provide an on-line system and add optional face-to-face components. The student's time is precious, so don't waste it by putting them through unnecessary processes at the campus: let them do most of it on-line first and then handle the hard bits in person.

PDF Forms are Not Really Online

Using PDF documents in place of paper is a useful transition between paper-based and on-line education. However, this is a stage which evaluational institutions need to get through. Providing PDF forms and course notes is better than providing them on paper, but provides a frustrating student experience.

Recently I applied to do some more education studies at a respected institution in the area of on-line education. However, I found the institutions processes relying on PDF forms. I had to fill in my name and address on each form and check the other details each time, as there was no IT support for the process. Excellent human support made this tolerable, but a well designed on-line system would have been useful.

MOOCs and The Student Experience

MOOCs will have a positive effect on the student experience, by putting pressure on those who deliver more traditional face-to-face and on-line courses to design them with more care. Where a course has hundreds of thousands of students, there has to be very careful design and testing, to avoid chaos.

Careful design has been a part of distance education course and administration design. However, the discipline which this imposes has not been there in more conventional face-to-face courses.

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