Saturday, January 29, 2022

Degree Credit for Activist MOOC

Athabasca University are offering credit towards a Masters degree for the course "Toward Co-operative Commonwealth: Transition in a Perilous Century". This is described as a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on . MOOCs were widely discussed a few years ago, but have fallen out of favor with educators. Many signed up for these free and low cost courses, but few completed them. Some universities offered course credit for MOOCs, but this usually involved extra assessment, cost, and administrative steps. In one case I looked at, the MOOC path cost more than  conventional study at a vocational college. The Synergia Co-operative Institute, a Canadian not-for profit, who are offing the MOOC, and Athabasca University, have tweaked the process to try and overcome these problems. 

The practice with past MOOCs was to make them free. If you wanted a certificate of completion, there was a fee for that, and some had an extra assessment fee to be used for course credit at a university. As a result many people registered for free out of curiosity, but never completed. MOOCs typically had a completion rate of 5% or less. Those how persisted for a few weeks were more likely to complete, indicating many were just curious.

As I discovered myself, having paid a fee makes you far more likely to complete a course. However, that results in equity issues, where those less able to pay are barred form the course. Synergia have addressed this by having a full fee of CA$140, a reduced fee for those on low incomes of CA$70, and a "solidarity fee" of a minimum of CA$1. It would be interesting to see what effect a $1 fee has on completion. 

Athabasca University are taking a cautious approach to credit for the MOOC. Rather than equating them to specific university courses, as some institutions have done (usually an introductory course), these are offered as Prior Learning Assessment credits. The catch, not mentioned in Synergia's documentary, is that Athabasca University's prior learning assessment process costs CA$884. This is less than the fees for a university course, but six times the full fee for the MOOC.  This process is expensive as each RPL has to be individually assessed, and is difficult (I went through it for an Australian certificate). Given in this case the RPL is for a course designed by Athabasca staff, the process should be easier, and the fee lower.

The MOOC is interesting in offering three levels of involvement for students: Explorer (1.5 to 2 hours a week), Changemaker (3 hours per week), Deep Diver (more than 3 hours a week). MOOCs commonly rely on prepared videos and reading materials (much like pre-Internet distance education), however Synergia offer "Peer Working Groups", which are essentially tutor-less tutorial groups. 

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