I just just completed my first MOOC (massive open online course) “Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization” where I have learned new techniques for visualizations. As one interested in learning technologies, this experience was not only about gathering new knowledge about infographics, but also about how one handles 2,000 students in an online course.
In this blog, I would like to share some of my personal observations and thoughts about MOOCs and post some questions for discussion:
- How will this trend influence the students who will enter our dental schools (At Berkeley, one of our students reported, undergrads are encouraged to stay home and watch the lectures instead of going to class)?
- Is there an opportunity for dental educators to move some of the preclinical classes to an online delivery mode (especially when you lack the basic science faculty to teach them)?
- Can information about student behavior collected during online classes support research in the realm of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning?
- Does any of you have any experience with courses delivered through Udacity, Coursera or edX?
My first observation has to do with motivation: You have to be a self-motivated, self-disciplined individual to finish a MOOC. There is very little external pressure to go on, especially peer pressure is low in an online environment. We all have experienced that online communication works best when you interact with people whom you have previously met face to face. Well, I did not know any of my 2,000 peers.
One way to reduce the dropout rate is to engage students which brings me to my second observation which I made during the course participation. The course director, Alberto Cairo who teaches Information Graphics and Visualization at the School of Communication at the University of Miami, made great efforts to keep us, online students, attentive and motivated. He used many techniques of peer review and peer rating of project (not grading!) to facilitate this process. In essence, each assignment included a mandatory part of posting at least two comments. In addition, he gave us the freedom to do whatever we want for our final project instead of a very prescribed assignments. He had us choose a topic, gather the appropriate information, and present the idea of how to show that information in graphic form. The first part of the assignment was to do sketches and write a short description outlining our goals and then share them in the discussion forums to get feedback from peers. We were also supposed to comment on other people’s proposals. Then, we had two weeks to produce our infographic and post it—again the assignment included to comment on the projects of our peers. While I did not check out all submissions, from the ones I reviewed, I can say that many students picked a topic which was either related to their daytime job or otherwise close to their heart. So, they were not only interested in the visualization techniques, but also felt passionate about the topic—I believe that made a difference.
Nicholas Carr, the author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (http://amzn.to/rD635C), published an interesting piece about MOOCs in Technology Review addressing, among other aspects, the dropout issue (see this and other links at the end). The article explores historical analogies, like the correspondence courses of the 1920ies, and talks about newer concepts, like the flipping of the classroom Khan Academy style. In general, the discussion centers around the efficiencies of MOOCs versus the lack of meaningful interactions between students and teachers resulting in high dropout rates. “Scholars who are skeptical of MOOCs warn that the essence of a college education lies in the subtle interplay between students and teachers that cannot be simulated by machines, no matter how sophisticated the programming.”
Yes, I will get a certificate, but “no formal course credit of any kind is associated with the certificate.” This brings me to my next observation, the question of proctoring technologies in these MOOCs. I do not have to elaborate on the issue of cheating in an environment where everyone is alone in front of a computer. I do think that both remote and face-to-face proctoring business is going to grow because of these new course modalities. Technology Review recently featured an article about upcoming technologies in that area: “In Online Exams, Big Brother Will Be Watching. How can you tell if an online student has done the work? That’s where webcam proctoring comes in.”
I have chronicled my journey during this MOOC experience in my blog if you are interested to learn more:
Let me conclude with a quote by Nicholas Carr: “Whether massive open courses live up to their hype or not, they will force college administrators and professors to reconsider many of their assumptions about the form and meaning of teaching. For better or worse, the Net’s disruptive forces have arrived at the gates of academia.”
NYT article about MOOCs: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html
Nicholas Carr: http://www.technologyreview.com/featured-story/429376/the-crisis-in-higher-education/
The Big Three, at a Glance: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/the-big-three-mooc-providers.html
In Online Exams, Big Brother Will Be Watching: http://www.technologyreview.com/news/506346/in-online-exams-big-brother-will-be-watching/
Associate Dean, Office of Faculty Development and Information Management
Associate Professor, Dental Public Health, Center for Dental Informatics
School of Dental Medicine, University of Pittsburgh