Tuesday, March 1, 2016

MOOCs a Screening Tool for E-learning Ready Students?

In "Better 21C Credentials: Evaluating the promise, perils and disruptive potential of digital credentials" Oliver (2016) points out that an alliance of six universities, including University of Queensland and the Australian National University are proposing to give students credit towards a university degree for massive open on-line courses (MOOCs) undertaken at each others institution.

Oliver suggests "The business plan underpinning this venture is likely to be aimed at scaling online degrees, and ensuring that students who convert from MOOCs are retained and complete remaining units at the usual university fee" (Oliver, p. 11, 2016). However, another reason for offering students credit for a MOOC is to screen applicants for their ability to complete a course relatively independently, at a low cost to the institution.

There are already several schemes for EdX students to earn university credit, however, these are mostly sponsored by a single university and limited to that university's edX courses. Global Freshman Academy, allows edX courses to be counted towards first year at Arizona State University, Charter Oak State College offer edX credit. The ACE Alternative Credit Project from the American Council on Education (ACE), offers an "official" ACE transcript, however, there are only three edX maths courses currently offered (through Boston University).

MIT Micro-Master's

The most unusual of the edX credit offerings is the MIT Micro-Master's Credential in Supply Chain Management. The other edX credit offerings have the student complete edX courses and then a capstone project, for credit towards the first year of an undergraduate degree. However, the MIT is offering a credential called a "MITx MicroMaster’s" on completion of the on-line courses and then a Masters degree, after the student completes a further one semester on campus.

The MIT Micro-Master's seems at odds with the idea of open access courses, which anyone can do with no prerequisites. A Masters degree normally requires the student to have completed a prior degree. The fine print says "the “MicroMaster’s, which will be granted by MITx (MIT’s online learning initiative) to students who do exceptionally well in a given set of graduate-level online courses and do well in a subsequent exam". Given that less than 10% of students complete an undergraduate level MOOC normally, the chances of them completing a set of graduate level courses and doing "exceptionally well" would seem remote (perhaps one in one thousand students). For the institution this low completion rate may not be a problem as MOOCs are designed for low cost delivery, but for the students and society, this is a waste of human resource.

MOOCs for Student Screening

MOOCs offer very limited staff support to the student and very few of those who enroll complete successfully (usually less than 10%). The students who can successfully complete a MOOC should therefore be more likely to complete a university program, than the average applicant. These students should be easier to teach, at a lower cost, requiring less human supervision. There could therefore be a very great incentive for universities to enroll these students, in preference to those who will require staff support.

Such a strategy will not work if the MOOC screened student is then given conventional lecture and paper based courses. The students may not respond to this format and the university will be wasting resources unnecessarily. But the educational institution does not need to prepare its entire degree program in the form of MOOCs, which would require very high levels of investment (and would be difficult for more advanced topics). Conventional distance education design techniques could be used, supplemented with face-to-face classes, where required.

In particular an institution does not need to make high quality videos, as these do not help with learning (students like videos, but these do not help them learn). Instead the student can be provided with an ebook and activities to undertake, via a learning management system. Courses can be structured to have students work in stoups for mutual support.

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