Measuring MOOCs

measuringMOOC enrollment surpassed 35 million in 2015 and though the blush is off the MOOC rose, they are clearly a new learning context for many people.

Are they transformative? I believe so, in the ways that they have created new platforms for online learning, reached new audiences and started conversations about alternative forms of learning and even alternatives within traditional education around credits and degrees.

Many of the current offerings labeled as MOOC are more moOC - that is, the numbers are less massive and the courses and content are not really "open" in the original intent and definition of that word.

Certificate-granting MOOCs and ones for college credit and professional development are what I see as the current trends of interest.

But the topic of quality in MOOCs, and online learning in general, has never gone away. Two reports recently examine that consideration.

The Babson annual “Online Report Card” is in its thirteenth (and I read, its final) year. The report's introduction caught my attention because it says that we are at a stage when “distance education is clearly becoming mainstream” and the divide between "online learning" and simply learning is less evident. The report doesn't spend much time on quality and seems to put MOOCs in the same category as other online learning.

The report titled  “In search of quality: Using Quality Matters to analyze the quality of Massive, Open, Online Courses (MOOCs)”  applied the Quality Matters™ higher education rubric (not the Continuing and Professional Development version) to six MOOCs, offered by three providers, Coursera, edX and Udacity.

Was that a fair test?

Critics of MOOCs will point to the result that all six MOOCs failed to meet QM’s passing grade of 85%. The QM rubric standards are grouped into eight dimensions and the MOOCs performed especially poorly at learner interaction and engagement, and learner support.

When my university first started to have students evaluate their online courses at the end of the last century, it used the same criteria and survey that was used for regular classes. That made some sense at first because they wanted to measure one against the other. Online offerings always did well in "the use of technology and media" category, but not very well in some of the face-to-face items such as lectures and teacher engagement.  After a few years, it was clear that a new survey made specifically for online courses was needed. But our online student survey would not be fair to use for a MOOC, especially one that is truly Massive and Open. A well designed course with many thousands of students, using OER, possibly no textbook, and taken for no credit or fees is just not going to be able to be measured against a good online course with a small number of students motivated by tuition, a grade, credits and a degree to be completed.

Efforts the past few years to evaluate MOOCs and establish standards of quality are important, but we have quite a ways to go.

Teach Online, Even If Your School Doesn't Offer a Platform

If you have never had the opportunity to teach online and have wondered what it's like, here's a chance to find out. Canvas offers you a chance to try out their learning management system (LMS) for free. They offer two options: Take Canvas for a test drive with a free, two-week trial account that is pre-loaded with course content so that you can explore without having to build from scratch. But, even better, is the offer to actually teach your existing class on Canvas for free, forever. "You bring the content and students. We’ll provide the awesome platform, " says Canvas.

Sure, this is an offer meant to help market the platform and entice you to recommend it at your institution, but take advantage of it. That is especially true if you have never taught online and want to give it a try. Perhaps your school doesn't even offer the option to supplement your face-to-face class with an online section. Though I am more involved in how any LMS including Canvas is used in higher education, this is probably even more applicable to pre-college. (Look at how the platform is being used in K-12 education.)  

I have designed online learning and taught in a number of learning management systems over the years - WebBoard, WebCT, Blackboard, eCollege, Sakai, Moodle and Canvas. My first experience with Canvas was when I taught a MOOC in the Canvas Network back in 2013. That was a meta-MOOC called "Academia and the MOOC" and was intended to attract teachers as well as others in academic roles (instructional designer, support staff, administration and student).

I found Canvas easy to use, but it seemed like a work-in-progress at the time. It lacked many of the tools I was used to having built-in (equation editor, white board, blog, wiki and journal features etc.). But here are some interesting things that came out of that experience.

Teaching that MOOC led me to connect with many other online instructors. Some had take my "course" (which was more of a large conversation) in order to try out Canvas as much as to learn about MOOCs.

dip your toe inWhile I was facilitating the MOOC, I was contacted by two other New Jersey colleges that were considering moving to Canvas. The instructional designers at both schools separately reported the same phenomena at their colleges. The instructional design staff felt as I had when I encountered Canvas - it seemed "underpowered." But, their faculty really liked it for pretty much the same reason: it was clean and simple and didn't have all those "tools we never use." Both colleges now use Canvas.

I think that anyone currently teaching at any level should have experienced being a student and being a teacher in an online setting. There is just no getting around the fact that it is and will continue to be a part of what learning has become and how it is offered.

Dip your foot into the online water - or just jump in with your whole course. It's not as scary as it looks.

Online Learning and the MOOC in Pre-college

The MOOC has not had very wide usage in secondary schools in the U.S. for a variety of reasons. Acually, online learning in general has not made significant inroads into the pre-college educational segment. 

A recent issue of the studentPOLL, published by the standardized test provider ACT and the consulting firm Art & Science Group, suggests that incoming college students still believe they will pursue higher education by attending most of their courses in person.


My own observation, somewhat contrary to this report, is that there are two uses of online learning - specifically MOOCs - in the pre-college population. One is by students who are self-motivated and want to explore college-level subjects. Second, is use by teachers looking to see what colleges are doing with subjects they teach. That is especially true of computer science, physics and other STEM subjects where teacher may feel a need to update their own learning, and also find materials that they can use in their own classes.

That poll showed that most college-bound high school students are concerned about the quality of online education, although a small percentage are open to the idea of taking some of their courses online. 85 percent of respondents said they wanted to take a majority of their courses in person. Only 6 percent said they were open to the idea of taking half, most or all of them online. About one-third (37 percent) said they could see themselves taking a handful of online courses. (9 percent were undecided.)

What does this mean for colleges that offer fully online programs? Well, they are not going to appeal to most freshman.

Online learning takes some geting used to, both as a student and as a teacher. Perhaps, pre-college programs should use online learning as it is used for many college courses - as a tools to augment face-to-face courses.


Online Continues to Appeal to Students - Not So Much With Faculty


Reading on the website, we find the latest annual update from the Babson Research Group, which has tracked online education in the US since 2002. The quick takeaway is that online courses continue to increase in popularity even as higher education enrollment in the country in general is dropping.

Some key points:

A year-to-year 3.9% increase in the number of distance education students, up from the  3.7% rate recorded last year.

More than one in four students (28%) now take at least one distance education course.

The total of 5.8 million fall 2014 distance education students is composed of 2.85 million taking all of their courses at a distance and 2.97 million taking some, but not all, distance  courses.

Public institutions command the largest portion of distance education students, with 72.7%  of all undergraduate and 38.7% of all graduate?level distance students.

The proportion of chief academic leaders that say online learning is critical to their long? term strategy fell from 70.8% last year to 63.3% this year.

The percent of academic leaders rating the learning outcomes in online education as the  same or superior to those in face?to?face instruction is now at 71.4%.

But that continued growth is not matched by the responses of faculty. If you accept "academic leaders" as speaking for their faculty, then the idea that only 29.1% of academic leaders report that their faculty accept the “value and legitimacy  of online education” is not impressive. However, take note that it depends on what faculty you are asking. Among schools with the largest distance enrollments, 60.1% report  faculty acceptance. Only 11.6% of faculty show acceptance at those schools with no distance enrollments. 

Weaker e-learning enthusiasm with faculty is a data point that has not changed much since the survey began.

Growth in online education is not based on it being better or equal to traditional classrooms. Growth is based on access. Students want more freedom in when and where they get their education and online programs (particularly fully online programs and degrees) allow learners to complete a program they couldn’t otherwise.



Minecraft in a MOOC

I came across this post with the video above about a MOOC using Minecraft. I thought I would pce on the info for those that may have read my recent post about Minecraft and Microsoft. 

EVO stands for Electronic Village Online. and EVO sessions have been held each year in January and February since 2001 (for more information, see

The EVO Minecraft MOOC is now in its third week and will run until February 13. see

The syllabus: which points to a set of missions at