MOOCs could have big implications for K-12 learning

MOOCs-educationThe term “MOOCs”–an acronym for massive open online courses–is no stranger to the higher-education community. Providers such as Coursera, edX, and Udacity have helped to boost MOOC mania, with some courses boasting tens of thousands of participants.

Supporters point to MOOCS’ easy accessibility and potential cost savings for students and colleges alike, while critics note the courses’ low retention rates and potential impact on college faculty hiring practices. Some universities are exploring whether or not they can offer credit for MOOC participation.

While the higher-education MOOC debate continues, more and more ed-tech advocates are linking MOOCs with K-12 education. MOOCs hold great potential to expand K-12 hybrid, or blended, learning, and also offer potential to increase student access to courses that might not be available in their brick-and-mortar schools, such as expanded language or Advanced Placement classes.

As eSchool News first reported in June during ISTE 2013, MOOCs have many K-12 implications.

According to one of the most popular International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) 2013 conference speakers, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are on the verge of revolutionizing K-12 education.

MOOCs—often free and non-credited online courses taught by educators—are currently transforming higher education. [Visit our higher-education site, eCampus News, for more MOOC news.]

But soon, MOOCs will begin to change the way high school courses are taught as well, said Dr. Scott Garrigan, professor of practice for instructional design and technology and teacher education at Lehigh University’s College of Education, during an ISTE highlighted session, “How will the MOOC explosion affect K-12 schools and students?”

According to Garrigan, last summer (2012) high school teens completed more than 15,000 courses from Udacity, a MOOC platform.

(Take our poll on page 3. Next page: Teens and MOOCs)“Clayton Christensen also predicted in his book, Disrupting Class, that by 2019, 50 percent of all high school courses will be online. I believe it,” he emphasized.

Many factors contribute to MOOC success, explained Garrigan, with the basic understanding that people want to learn.

“Lots of people want to learn if they think it’s interesting and there’s no risk,” he said.

Another major reason is the complete change of teaching methods and tools used with MOOCs. For example:

  • Each video is usually 10 minutes, holding student attention span.
  • There’s a high instructor presence, lending to a personal, collegial feel. “Many students say they choose courses based on instructor personality,” said Garrigan.
  • “Retrieval” feedback occurs every five minutes or so with MOOCs. According to Garrigan, this means that after five minutes students are asked to complete a short quiz to determine whether or not they understand the concepts presented. If they don’t pass the quiz, they cannot move forward and are asked to review the material.
  • Deadlines still exist for tests and homework.
  • Q & A forums are popular, as well as online student study groups.

Watch Daphne Koller’s (Stanford University professor and co-founder of the MOOC platform Coursera) video on the importance of retrieval feedback in MOOCs:

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Another interesting characteristic of MOOCs is the software behind the videos offered by many MOOC platforms (Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy, and edX), allowing the educator to give students a first-person point-of-view.

(Next page: Educators switching to MOOCs)

“You see the educator writing through the problem, solving the equation, or drawing a concept, and you see him or her as you would if you were drawing the concept. There’s no lecture and blackboard happening. It not only lends a feeling of connection to the educator, but helps students better visualize what’s being explained,” said Garrigan.

Tools available through MOOCs also include the ability for an educator to write out a question, or set of questions, through the video and then have the video turn those hand-written questions into an interactive online quiz.

The interactive quizzes then provide students, and the educator, with instant feedback.

Garrigan gave the example of Sebastian Thrun, CEO of Udacity, a Google fellow and VP, and a research professor at Stanford University, who resigned his tenured position at a prestigious university to start a MOOC platform.

“Here’s this man who was what we call a ‘rockstar teacher;’ he had over 200 students enrolled in his class, and when he heard that Salman Khan [of Khan Academy] was reaching thousands of students at once, he changed completely,” said Garrigan.

Watch Thrun’s explanation of why he become a MOOC educator:

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“This is what MOOCs are doing to educators,” he continued, “they’re making educators realize you can’t just say ‘here’s the content and if you come you come; if you don’t you don’t.’ Instead, educators are now saying ‘It’s my job to teach as many people as I can and to become part of this global learning community. It’s a spirit of cooperation and information sharing.”

It’s also what Garrigan referred to as an ‘Amazon’-like experience for education.

“What if each learner can choose from personally recommended, high-quality, appropriate lessons that they are interested in?” asked Garrigan. “Students become invited to learn whatever they want, not forced into learning a set of materials.”

The MOOC platform Garrigan suggested for high school students and teachers is Khan Academy, which allows for grading, peer and self-review, data reports, and student tracking.

Learn more about Khan Academy here.

However, Garrigan does note that concerns still exist with MOOC-based learning, including accountability, face-to-face contact with educators, state department of education buy-in, and course credits.

“But think of it this way,” he concluded, “As an educator in a typical K-12 classroom, it would take you almost 25 years to reach the 100,000 students you could reach in one MOOC. And as a district, consider edX: reaching over one billion students, they are now the largest education enterprise in existence.”

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