There is currently lots of thinking going on about the implications of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)–courses that are free online and enroll tens of thousands of students at a time from all over the world: How will these affect traditional colleges and universities? Will students still be willing to pay (lots) of money to go to college? What will happen when incoming freshman arrive having already taken numerous MOOCs? etc.
These questions are already being deeply explored by a large number of people and organizations.
However, there is a class of questions that is equally interesting, but not receiving nearly as much attention: how will instructors of MOOCs and instructors of non-MOOCs alter their courses as a result of themselves having access to MOOCs and thereby being able to view courses taught by other professors?
It is a widely agreed upon principle that to improve at something, it is extremely helpful to receive ongoing, constructive feedback from others about the effectiveness of the work and with ideas for how to improve.
Last year, as a first-year 7th grade math teacher, there was no easy way for me to get feedback on my teaching from my colleagues and supervisors besides the time-intensive and labor-intensive process of having an administrator or teacher-mentor sit in my classroom for a period.
This couldn’t possibly happen often enough (they have lots of other important responsibilities) and when it did happen, they were only able to see a quick snapshot of my class for one particular lesson, so they didn’t have enough information to be able to provide useful feedback regarding what I may have done well (or poorly) during weeks of previous lessons which may have led to any of the good or bad aspects of student learning or classroom culture that were visible on that particular day.
In fact, only rarely did a teacher who was teaching the exact same subject observe my class or did I observe the class of another teacher. For any particular lesson, someone else may have been doing something subtly different (or very clearly different) that was altering the effectiveness of the lesson, but I could never know because I wasn’t there.
Certainly, we often planned lessons together, but, as everyone knows, two different teachers who are teaching a lesson that is supposedly similar can end up with very different outcomes.
Lots of data
However, instructors of courses such as MOOCs, for whom 100% of the course is captured digitally, are not constrained by this. They, or anyone else, can always look back and explore in great detail exactly what they did pedagogically and exactly how students responded.
I have seen some discussion of how data from MOOCs can provide some insight into the effectiveness of various teaching strategies: see exactly what the teacher did, see exactly how the students responded, and draw some conclusions. I have even seen some discussion of the intriguing idea of testing different teaching strategies in different sections of the sameand comparing the results: A/B testing for teachers!
However, there is a whole class of questions about the effects MOOCs may have on other faculty members (and their courses) which I have not yet seen any discussion of.
Feedback and the ability to observe other faculty members’ courses:
- To what extent will faculty members who teach non-MOOC courses view and participate in similar courses offered as MOOCs led by faculty at other universities?
- How will faculty members who teach MOOCs use the easy access to the entire course to solicit feedback from colleagues and students?
- If Instructor A views the MOOCs led by Instructor B, what impact will this have on Instructor A’s OWN courses (traditional or MOOC)?
- As instructors who lead MOOCs get feedback (and adjust their courses accordingly) while other instructors see what is happening in the MOOCs (and adjust their courses–traditional or MOOC)–based on what they see, how will this change the content/pedagogy/structure of both MOOCs and traditional courses in the long-run?
- When comparing courses (say, Calc I) across different universities, how will the fact that all faculty have the ability to view several Calc I MOOCs, cause certain aspects of the courses’ content/pedagogy/structure to….
- CONVERGE? For example, when one instructor uses an excellent demo or example in a MOOC, will other faculty adopt a similar technique in their classes?
- DIVERGE? Since faculty probably have a desire (and incentive) to make their courses distinctive and unique, once something starts being presented a certain way in MOOCs, will faculty change their instruction to make it different than the “free version” online?
Historical pedagogical trends:
6. All courses change in content/pedagogy/structure over time. Modern MOOCs provide a detailed record of exactly what material was presented, exactly how it was presented, and exactly how particular students responded to that material. This is extremely useful information now due to the ability of researchers to learn more about how students in these courses learn (see above).
However, this record will also provide an interesting historical snapshot of current courses. In 50 years, someone can look back and explore how these courses were taught in 2013.
Wouldn’t it be cool to look back at a Math or English Lit course that took place 10 or 50 or 100 years ago and see how it worked back then? What about a course in Psychology, Computer Science, or Biology?
10 and 50 and 100 years from now, people will be able to look back on contemporary MOOCs and explore how these courses look right now and see how they will have changed over time, which I imagine will lead to some fascinating results.
Certainly, MOOCs don’t offer a comprehensive snapshot of all teaching and learning that goes on in Universities, but they provide much more extensive and detailed information about this particular subset of higher education than possibly could have existed before.
I am very curious to see how the existence of MOOCs affects courses on similar topics elsewhere.
How will this all play out?
Is anyone aware of any work that is currently being done to explore any of the questions posed above? (Particularly #4 and #5–how will all courses on a particular subject change as a result of the availability of MOOCs?)
Update: Ryan Tracey has a good list of potential implications of the current growth of MOOCs available here.