MOOCs for beginners
What is a MOOC?
A MOOC is a massive open online course on different topics—ranging from the sciences and finance to music, humanities and information technology—
offered for free via the web by top performing universities from around the world. The main resource is a weekly video, broken down into bite-size pieces of eight to 12 minutes.
What groups provide massive online courses?
Coursera (www.coursera.org), edX (www.edx.org), Udacity (www.udacity.com) and Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org). They are seen as models for delivering quality educational content at no cost to any willing learner.
Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng of Stanford University founded Coursera in 2012.
Sebastian Thrun and Mike Sokolsky of Stanford University launched Udacity also last year. edX was jointly founded in 2012 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University and is now chaired by Anant Agarwal of MIT.
What schools offer MOOCs?
Most courses are offered by top US schools such as Harvard University, MIT, Stanford University, Yale University, Columbia University and University of Pennsylvania. Coursera has 83 partner schools from North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. edX has 25 affiliates while Udacity directly works with resource persons from 10 different universities and Silicon Valley-related institutions to offer courses.
Leading Europe-based universities have organized a MOOCs group called FutureLearn (www.futurelearn.com) that includes mobile-based courses, while Australia- and Pacific-based universities recently launched a MOOC
platform called Open2Study (www.open2study.com).
How can one enroll in a course?
A student can go online and choose a MOOC platform that suits his or her need, interest or curiosity. Some of the most popular sites are Coursera, Udacity and edX.
One can sign up for any course in the catalogue and create a profile. Each student should take note of the duration, frequency of the video lectures and type of assignments to be given by the professor. Formats and specific policies may slightly vary from one course to the next.
How long are the courses?
From four to 15 weeks.
Who can take a course?
Anyone with a computer, tablet or smart phone and Internet broadband connection can register with MOOC groups using an e-mail. Each student may choose to sign up for as many subjects he or she wants. Many offer introductory classes and do not have any requirements. Other courses are intended for specialized audiences and assume some background knowledge.
Who are taking MOOCs?
People, including high school and college students, unemployed, homemakers, retirees, professionals and those with advanced degrees, from 160 countries.
“We have a vision where students everywhere around the world, regardless of country, family circumstances or financial circle have access to top quality education whether to expand their minds or learn valuable skills,” said Coursera founders Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng.
In her TED talk last year, Koller mentioned a case where 20 students were injured and a student’s mother died in a stampede while vying for limited slots in a university in Johannesburg, South Africa. Developing Coursera was her “personal mission” to provide free quality education and it has reached close to 4 million learners in a little over a year.
Salman Khan said his MOOCs were able to reach out to out-of-school youths in the United States and provided help to poor kids in India. Recently, a father of a 17-year-old child with severe autism finished six Coursera courses and wrote to thank the team behind the group.
How are lectures released?
Teachers release videos on a weekly basis. Most courses have about two hours of video lectures per week. A student can access videos for the current week and previous weeks. A typical lecture runs for eight to 12 minute.
Can a student watch the lectures at his or her convenience?
Yes. All video lectures are prerecorded and can be viewed at one’s own convenience.
How big are the classes?
Each class ranges from a few thousand to over a hundred thousand. “Introduction to Computer Science” attracted 300,000 students last year in Udacity, reported group founder Sebastian Thrun.
In each class, a study by René Kizilcec, Chris Piech and Emily Schneider of Stanford University’s Learning Analytics group, identifies four type of MOOC students: auditors, who watched video throughout the course, but took few quizzes or exams; completers, who viewed most lectures and took part in assessments; disengaging learners, who took part only at the start of the course; and sampling learners, who might only watch the lectures at various times during the course.
Is English the only medium of instruction?
No. Aside from English, MOOCs now have courses offered entirely in French, Spanish, Italian and Chinese by international universities. Most video lectures in English provide subtitles in these four other languages.
Is close captioning available?
Yes. MOOC lectures provide closed captioning on all videos in English by default. A student may turn on the captioning by looking for the “CC” icon (and selecting which language if there are multiple options). This feature is located at the bottom right of the video player. Most video lectures offer downloadable subtitles in “text” and “srt” formats.
Do students get transcripts of the lectures?
Yes. Most lectures provide transcripts, which are available for download.
Do teachers respond to questions from students?
Yes. But since instructors and their staff cannot respond to
individual e-mails, students are encouraged to post problems or questions on discussion forums that are usually grouped by thread or topic.
Are there discussion forums and study groups?
Yes. Each course has its own discussion forum where students can ask questions, exchange ideas, clarify course policies on grading and deadlines, report technical problems or get to know fellow students. Other students post meet-ups to conduct physical study groups according to geography, classes or interests.
Are textbooks required for a MOOC?
Not all courses require textbooks. Most lecturers provide the reading materials while others suggest sites to get open-sources of e-books. Recently, Coursera partnered with Chegg, a leading provider of e-Reader and e-book, to give free content for the duration of the course. The list of participating publishers includes Macmillan Higher Education, Oxford University Press, Cengage Learning, Sage and Wiley.
How are assignments administered?
Some courses include machine-graded multiple-choice and short-answer assignments or problem sets, which are announced and accessible on one’s own course page. Some courses allow a number of attempts to answer problems.
Every assignment provides a deadline and metes out penalties for late submissions.
For some assignments, after the deadline, a student may review answers to the specific questions or teachers provide explanation for each solution.
How are assignments or exams graded?
MOOCs use “peer assessments” in which a student evaluates the work of three to four students in order to have his/her own assignment graded. Failure to complete the requisite number of evaluations will result in a grade penalty. Using a lecturer’s criteria for grading, MOOC groups have found that peer assessments are at par with the way lecturers grade their students.
For assignments with objective questions, math problems and programming codes, MOOCs use automated grading.
Is there a final exam?
Yes. Courses follow a curriculum and conclude a course with a final exam. Ample but reasonable time is given to students to complete the exam.
Do students get credits after completing a course?
Enrollees do not earn college-level credit from practically all MOOC sites but courses award statements of accomplishment or mastery badges. Some partner-schools now offer credits for a fee.
Coursera opened its “signature track” courses where students can earn a certificate from a school. Five courses are now accredited by the American Council on Education . Both options require a final proctored exam done by a third-party company like ProctorU or PearsonVue.
The five courses eligible for accreditation via Coursera are “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution” by Mohamed Noor of Duke University, “Calculus” by Robert Ghrist of University of Pennsylvania, “Bioelectricity” by Roger Coke Barr of Duke University, and “Pre-Calculus and Algebra” by Sarah Eichhorn and Rachel Cohen Lehman of University of California-Irvine.
How do instructors deal with students who cheat or plagiarize?
Students are asked to follow the “Honor Code” against cheating, plagiarism and intellectual property rights violations during enrollment.
Students who violated policies or the honor code may have their scores penalized and accounts suspended. They may lose eligibility for college credit, or have their certificates and transfer credit recommendations invalidated.
Are MOOCs profit-oriented?
Most of the biggest MOOC groups offer the courses for free but providers such as Coursera and Udacity have found ways to earn revenue from their courses.
Coursera provides free courses but is offering certificates for a fee ($60-$90). It is also experimenting with a career service that makes money by connecting employers to its students. Coursera has attracted $22 million in venture capital in its first year.
All of Udacity’s courses are available for free but after the class, students can choose to certify their skills online or in one of Udacity’s 4,500 testing centers for a fee. The content of the class is the same for both options. The differences between for-credit and free classes are the support services and proctored exams for the paid courses. Thrun of Udacity has raised $21 million in venture capital in March 2013.
Khan Academy offers everything for free with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Google, among others. edX also operates as a not-for-profit enterprise, with a $60-million startup fund from Harvard and MIT.
Do Philippine schools offer MOOCs?
No. The University of the Philippines Open University (www.upou.edu.ph), however, is set to launch its pilot test of MOOCs on foreign languages and android application development in partnership with Smart Communications.
How is a MOOC different from distance learning offered by open universities?
There are two main differences between MOOCs and distance learning, according to economist and educator Emmanuel de Dios.
First, open universities require students to be officially enrolled in distance learning and take all the required online courses leading to a degree or diploma. By contrast, MOOCs are not tied to one university for picking courses. Students already enrolled in a brick-and-mortar school may opt to enroll in MOOCs as they please.
Next, a university need not produce its own set of online courses in case quality MOOCs are already available. The move to adopt this “pick-and-choose” courses leading to a flexible curriculum is seen as a possible system for use in higher education, De Dios said.
In the Philippines, traditional universities are still held as a benchmark for learning, although open and distance-learning institutions serve as the closest version of MOOCs.
Can one take MOOCs and earn a degree?
The MOOCs phenomenon has led many educators to believe in that possibility. Thomas Friedman, an award-winning New York Times columnist, said the future of MOOCs might lead to creating one’s own curriculum.
“I can see a day soon where you’ll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world… paying only nominal fee for the certificates of completion. It will change teaching, learning and the pathway to employment,” said Friedman.
With the way things are currently done in MOOCs, University of Maryland professor Hank Lucas sees the possibility of taking one course to another leading to the whole curriculum in the future. But he posed these questions: “How many courses does a student have to take from his chosen university to be granted a diploma credit for it? Will there be an aggregator of MOOCs who provides credentials and a degree?”
Do MOOCs pose a threat to ‘traditional’ schools?
MOOCs are seen as a game-changer for traditional universities. In his Coursera class “Surviving Disruptive Technologies,” Lucas defined a disruptive technology as “an innovation providing a product or service that is so compelling that everyone abandons their current way of doing things and flocks to what is new.” He described the surge of MOOCs as disruptive. He added that the popularity of MOOCs was prompting industry leaders to reexamine how this would affect the future of learning.
Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, observed one main trend that has caught on. In his TED talk last year, he said students reversed the “concept of lecture and homework” in MOOCs and called it “flipping the classroom.” Since lectures are done in computers at homes, students then discuss problems in class. “It is the opposite in conventional schools where physical meet ups for lectures take place while problems are brought and solved at home,” Lucas said.