Saturday, March 9, 2013

Are MOOCs a Real Challenge to the Residential Colleges and Universities?

I Just finished the five-week long MOOCs course titled “E-learning and Digital Cultures” taught by five instructors at the University of Edinburgh. This was my first MOOC experience and it was eye-opening and thought-provoking.

A total of 42874 participants registered for this course. However, it’s reported that only 17% of the participants were active in the last seven days before the course was over. About 60% of the respondents came either from “teaching and education” or reported themselves to be “students”. Over 60% of the entire respondent group has postgraduate level qualifications, and a further 35% have a university or college degrees. 

Course contents included video clips and reading materials. There was discussion forum for the topic covered each week. Participants were also encouraged to conduct discussions through Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, the instructors also organized a couple of “hangouts” through Google+.

The final assessment for this course included a digital artefact and assessment of three artefacts of other participants.  

Reflections on this MOOC Experience.

Some years ago, when Internet-based distance education was getting popular, a lot of discussions were conducted on the impact of distance education on physical campuses. The emergence of MOOCs has aroused similar discussions and concerns.

Apparently MOOCs have both promises and pitfalls for disseminating knowledge. Promises include its potential to reach unlimited number of participants and unlimited boundaries; the second promise many of the MOOCs are “taught” by the renowned professors from the elite institutions; the third one is the any-time, any-place flexibility compared to face2face courses.
Yet, there are many problems MOOCs have to address. One, the quality of the MOOC education. Because of the large number of participants, it’s almost impossible for an individual to get attention of the course professors. In the course I took, many participants complained of the limited presence of the course instructors. As a matter of fact, the instructors did not participate in the discussions at all, and even they did, their posts would be buried by the hundreds of other posts. The second pitfall of MOOCs, as I see it, is the validity of the course evaluation. This problem also has something to do with the big number of participants. As far as the course I took, the evaluation assignments did not seem to be closely relevant with what was covered in the course. It seemed that even someone who had not taken the course, he/she could still make a digital artifact and assess other’s artifact. The third problem is the high rate dropout. This problem may have a lot to do with the fact that many participants took the course merely for gaining an experience rather than credit or certificate. Nevertheless, students’ motivation is a critical factor for the successful completion of the course.

Implications of MOOCs for ACS Institutions

 Finally, I want to raise the following questions to my colleagues for discussion. What’s the impact of MOOCs to residential colleges and universities? Are MOOCs a real threat to residential colleges and universities such as our ACS institutions? What can we, as a consortium, do to meet the challenge posed by MOOCs and adapt to new technology that drives MOOCs?