Using MOOC Materials to Enhance Non-MOOC Courses

The MOOC

[Image credit: giulia.forsytheCC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

What is it?

Perhaps no formal introduction is required, but MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. MOOCs developed partially out of the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement. The first MOOCs were based on the principles of making learning open, emergent, open-ended, and connected. Then Stanford (and a little later MIT) launched some MOOCs, the New York Times dubbbed 2012 “The Year of MOOC” and David Brooks stoked the fire, venture capitalists got involved, and things kind of went crazy from there.

In February, 2013 CU Boulder inked a contract with MOOC provider Coursera and is preparing to soon launch four MOOCs. In May, 2013, CU signed another contract with Coursera to expand MOOC offerings across the entire system. President Benson formed the Task Force for New Technologies (TFNT) and a main charge of this group is to investigate ways technology can be used to enhance the learning experience of our students. To this end, ASSETT is endeavoring to provide guidance and support to faculty interested in using MOOC or other OER materials to enhance student learning (e.g., flip) in their their non-MOOC courses. Intrigued? Read on!

How does it work?

In principle, this is not much different than selecting a textbook (in fact some have likened MOOCs to super open online textbooks) or other non-original content such as videos to include in a course. Instructors have been using such materials to flip their courses for a long time and this is the main way MOOC materials are currently being used to enhance non-MOOC courses. For example, Doug Fisher at Vanderbilt is using materials (mostly the video lectures) from Andrew Ng’s Stanford course on machine learning to flip his on-campus course of the same name. See this excellent resource from the Coursera Partners Community for many more examples of instructors using MOOC materials to flip their non-MOOC courses.

One potential difference is that MOOCs can introduce the added component of “eventness” to these outside resources. For example, students from an on-campus course can enroll in a MOOC and, in addition to meeting locally with face-to-face classmates, can interact online with students from around the world who are learning the same material. Thus, the material being used to the flip the on-campus course is “live” in the sense that another instructor is creating and sequencing this content and potentially thousands of students are learning, processing, and remixing these materials. This has been termed a “distributed flip.” For example, an instructor at the University of Puerto Rico recently used class a Stanford MOOC (Introduction to Databases) to flip her on-campus course. The students in Puerto Rico followed the sequence and content of the MOOC while in-class time was used for active learning such as problem-based learning and authentic assessment.

What are the benefits?

As is the case for any flipped course, the main benefit is that more in-class time can be used for active learning (e.g., problem-based learning, cooperative learning) and deeper applications of course content. The learning benefits of active learning are quite robust. With using MOOCs to flip a class, students may gain the added benefit of being able to access fresh content from experts in the field and, as mentioned above, potentially interact with learners from around the world.

What are the potential drawbacks?

A main drawback of using any outside content to flip a course is the concern that students simply won’t engage with the material out-of-class. The most basic question to ask in this case is: “Is a student’s success in the course directly related to how much they engage with and process out-of-class content?” If yes, then the majority of students will make use of the online content (MOOC content in this case). A key approach is to make sure that MOOC content is clearly integrated into in-class activities so that student must have an understanding of this content prior to coming to class in order to successfully participate. Another common cure for this drawback is to require pre-class quizes or discussions to incentivize students to come to class prepared.

Another potential drawback is that MOOC or other outside content is inherently inflexible (except perhaps in the case of a distributed flip situation) and may contain errors, gaps, be too verbose or laconic, or perhaps be antithetical to an on-campus instructor’s philosophy. Thus, it takes time to properly vet outside resources and successfully integrate them into the structure of an existing course. It is often helpful to work with a Teaching and Learning Consultant  who can help in this process.

Who at CU?

Four CU professors will soon be teaching the first MOOCs offered by our institution. The goal is to also use content and pedagogical approaches from these MOOCs (and others that will be launched by the system) to enhance the learning experience of on-campus students. This process is ongoing and we invite you to contact us if you’re interested in using MOOC content in your CU course.

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