Online learning: Campus 2.0
Massive open online courses are transforming higher education — and providing fodder for scientific research.
M. Mitchell Waldrop
13 March 2013
MOOCs: Internet-based teaching programmes designed to handle thousands of students simultaneously, in part using the tactics of social-networking websites.
MOOCs had exploded into the academic consciousness in summer 2011, when a free artificial-intelligence course offered by Stanford University in California attracted 160,000 students from around the world — 23,000 of whom finished it.
major universities around the world, as dozens — 74, at the last count — rush to sign up.
“In 25 years of observing higher education, I’ve never seen anything move this fast,” says Mitchell Stevens, a sociologist at Stanford and one of the leaders of an ongoing, campus-wide discussion series known as Education’s Digital Future.
The ferment is attributable in part to MOOCs hitting at exactly the right time.
could free faculty members from the drudgery of repetitive introductory lectures.*
*Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’ “Ser más creativos” needs to update its first week videos as the net balance from teleworking is not positive for an organization anymore.
In order to replicate some of Google’s workplace innovation, Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer’ killed a popular work-from-home policy on February 2013.
What’s more, they can record online students’ every mouse click, an ability that promises to transform education research by generating data that could improve teaching in the future.
MOOC companies still face challenges, such as dealing with low course-completion rates** and
proving that they can make profit.
And they have a lot of convincing to do among faculty members, … “Others say, ‘Wait a minute. How do we preserve quality?
How do we connect with students?’”
MOOCs are largely a product of one corridor in the Stanford computer-science department
Koller particularly wanted to promote ‘flipping’, a decade-old innovation in which students listen to lectures at home and do their ‘homework’ in class with their teachers, focusing on the most difficult aspects or discussing a concept’s wider implications. This lets the instructors concentrate on the parts of teaching most of them enjoy — interacting with the students — and relieves them of the repetitive lecturing that they often dislike.
Koller also wanted to incorporate insights from the many studies showing that passively listening to a lecture is a terrible way to learn
(Levels of processing: A framework for memory research
F. I. M. Craik and R. S. Lockhart J.
Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav. 11, 671–684; 1972
The idea was to get them to think about what they had learned; the deeper their engagement, studies showed, the better their retention.
Hundreds of students might end up asking the same question.
So the developers implemented a real-time search algorithm that would display related questions and potential answers before a student could finish typing.
Ng and Koller also let students vote items up or down, much like on the link-sharing website Reddit, so that the most insightful questions would rise to the top rather than being lost in the chatter.
The two researchers even set the system up so that students could mark one another’s homework for essay questions, which computers can’t yet handle.
[Thrun] I thought it was a social responsibility to take it online
160,000 students … With those numbers, venture-capital funding quickly followed.
Thrun announced his company Udacity in January 2012.
Arguing that most professors don’t have a clue about how to exploit the online medium, he and his colleagues elected to develop their courses in-house
Ng and Koller announced Coursera in April 2012 … let them provide the content while Coursera provided the hosting and software platform.
It became edX in May 2012
the term MOOCs, which had been circulating quietly in educational circles since it was coined in 2008
electric-circuits MOOC in spring 2012 included an 81-year-old man,
a single mother with two children, and
a 15-year-old prodigy from Mongolia who got a perfect score on the final exam.
Udacity’s Introduction to Computer Science MOOC, currently its most popular, has enrolled more than 270,000 students.
takes a fair amount of thinking.” So does coming up with good, compelling questions to engage the students between the segments. …. “It takes many hours to produce one hour of quality video.”
**MOOCs’ dismal completion rates, which rarely rise above 15%.
Completion has been a problem for distance learning ever since the first correspondence courses in the nineteenth century
Only a small fraction of students have the drive and the perseverance to learn on their own, he says, and most people need help: “social support from their fellow students to help them keep going, and
intellectual support from their professors and fellow students to help them figure out the material”.
At the moment, says Dede, the MOOC companies’ peer-to-peer communication tools don’t do nearly enough to provide that kind of help.
“They’re just kind of hoping that people will figure out from the bottom up how to support each other,” he says.
The companies acknowledge that completion rates are a concern and that their platforms are still works in progress.
“My aspiration isn’t to reach the 1% of the world that is self-motivating,” says Thrun, “it’s to reach the other 99%.”
The companies are already working on enhanced social tools such as live video and text chat, for example.
they also see plenty of opportunities to make money using the ‘freemium’ model followed by Google
they are already working with accreditation agencies
In October 2012, for example, edX licensed a circuit-theory MOOC designed by Agarwal to San Jose State University in California, where it was used as the online component of a flipped classroom experience.
the San Jose course’s usual 40% failure rate fell to 9%.
When data from individual students are multiplied by tens or hundreds of thousands of students per course, they reach a scale big enough to launch a whole new field of learning informatics — “big-data science for education”, Pea calls it.
No one knows exactly where that restructuring might end up.
Major universities such as Stanford are taking the lead, “trying to integrate and embed digital learning into the fabric of the entire university” — and trying to master the new technology before it masters them.
“education is more than just knowledge”, says Dede.
“It’s abilities like leadership and collaboration, and traits like tenacity”, all of which are best learned face to face.
An unspoken irony weaves through almost every discussion about MOOCs: thanks to innovations such as flipping, online technology’s most profound effect on education may be to make human interaction more important than ever.
… But there is also no substitute for a conversation.”