When Jane Austen wrote this immortal line she had a different marriage of minds in her sights. However last weekend I had a diversion from my doctorate studies. Well, more like a meander.
Recently my colleague the eminent Professor Graham Pike and myself were approached about writing a chapter for a forthcoming ed tech book Creativity and Critique in Online Learning. The book is set to explore and examine digital innovation developments from the perspective of critical practitioners. Instead of simply focusing on describing particular pedagogical tools, each chapter will also draw on the experiences and action research of those actively engaged in teaching in an online environment.
Given our work together on the MOOC Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigation currently presenting on FutureLearn, it may come as no surprise that our chapter is entitled: The Challenges of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
The chapter unfolds with a literature review to set the scene as to the challenges of MOOCs (different pedagogical approaches, large heterogeneous learner populations, limited data, large drop out rates, to name but a few) before reflecting on what this means for MOOCs in a critical context. The latter half of the chapter is set to explore data from Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigation in comparison to other MOOCs that I’ve worked on for presentation through FutureLearn.
Last weekend I authored the literature review and the critical reality of MOOCs. Given my work and doctorate studies in MOOCs it seemed an obvious task divide, which is now with Graham for critical reading. This week we progress to how we write up our data findings. We have specifically been reviewing engagement and drop off with MOOCs as this is one of the biggest challenges that MOOC authors and platform providers face.
Forensic Psychology sits separately to the other MOOCs that I’ve worked on for presentation on FutureLearn in that it’s learning design centres around a narrative that is released like a Dickensian serial on a week-by-week basis. Learners are unable to jump ahead into future weeks to find out which police inspector was right and who committed the crime. There are no plot spoilers in this MOOC just a clever narrative of clues, plot twists, and red herrings that learners have to navigate. Due to its learning design this course fares better than most in sustaining engagement.
So where is the challenge?
Well, pedagogically it’s not always possible to replicate this method of narrative and weekly release in every MOOC and though at a slower rate, learners are still disengaging in a similar pattern. In understanding when learners are more likely to disengage may help us to understand when would be best to apply interventions to aid to maintain learners throughout the course.
There will of course be additional challenges as to whether those inventions are suited to such a large population and whether the data demonstrates an increase in engagement. Such interventions may be platform, course or demographic specific, so may be difficult to scale when widening the scope.
The challenges may indeed only create more challenges.
I have a feeling that will be the subject of another chapter or paper in the future.
Until then I’m still…doctor in waiting