Wednesday, September 26, 2012

First shot at characterizing MOOCs -- what are the relevant attributes? (Using a Coursera history course as an example)

Last month I watched portions of Google's Inside Search MOOC and posted a short description of its structure.

Now I am watching Coursera's History of the World since 1300, taught by Princeton history professor Jeremy Adelman.

I am not trying to evaluate the course in this post, but to use it as an example in an effort to develop a set of characteristics or dimensions we can use in describing online courses. (We also need classification schemes for course levels, student goals, etc.). I've also compiled a set of screen images illustrating various characteristics of the course.

Course attributes or dimensions

  • Synchronization: This is a lockstep class in which a cohort is synchronized over twelve weeks as opposed to self study. I do not know whether or not the lectures and other material will be archived for self study after the class ends.
  • Ordering: Ordering of this course is strong since all students follow the same path throught the weekly modules as opposed to students selecting arbitrary modules or following suggested paths through the course material.
  • Presentation style: The presentations are lecture style as opposed to the over-the-shoulder conversation style of the Khan Academy or Udacity.
  • Lecture format: There are two one hour lectures per week. They are broken into four or five segments running from around 6 to 20 minutes.
  • Video presentation modes: There have been five video presentation modes -- (a) image of the professor superimposed next to a slide on a large simulated display screen, (b) full screen image of the professor speaking, (c) full screen image of a slide with the professor narrating, (d) full screen image of the TA speaking in a control room, (e) simulated conversation between the TA and the professor. Mode a is by far the most common. Modes d and e are used very sparsely. The efficacy of these alternative modes of presentation can be tested in controlled studies.
  • Linearity: The video is linear. The interactive quizzes are separate.
  • Production location: The video is shot in a studio, not a classroom, lecture hall or person's desk.
  • Recording quality: The audio and video quality is excellent (resoltions, frame rates and audio characteristics can be quantified).
  • Face to face synchronization: This course is hybrid, run in parallel with an in-class offering, as opposed to Internet only.
  • Lecture slide format: The lectures use simple slides -- either a single image or very few words versus more complex slides.
  • Subtitles: There are optional subtitles in various languages. The first lecture segments now have English, Spanish, Portugues and Indonesian subtitles. The translation is evidently being done shortly after the lecture is recorded.
  • Transcripts: There are one phrase per line transcripts (with and without time codes) to support the subtitle translators, but no natural paragraph transcripts.
  • Instructor control of display: The professor uses an iPad to change slides and draw highlights on the slide display.
  • Video controls: play/pause, raise/lower volume, skip back/forward, increase/decrease speed, and toggle full-screen. There is no clickable, slide level index. Skip back is very useful if one's mind wanders for a short time. The ability to increase/decrease playback speed is particularly valuable in giving the user control over the experience and as a tool for research into the effect of playback speed on comprehension and retention.
  • Grading and certification: There is no grading or certification for this MOOC.
  • Interactive quizzes: Most segments are followed by a quiz.
  • Quiz format: The quizzes focus on recall -- each (so far) consist of four true/false questions. Feedback is correct/incorrect only.
  • Machine graded assignments: The short answer quizzes are graded automaticall.
  • Subjective assignments: A 750-word essay every two weeks with peer feedback.
  • Textbook: There is a recommended $90 textbook. The book is not required, but it was written specifically for this course by a team of five coauthors, including the presenting professor.
  • Audio recording: The lectures have not included supplementary audio recording to this point.
  • Video recording: The lectures have not included supplementary video recording to this point.
  • Other supplementary material: There is a checklist of places and terms for each lecture.
  • Guest lectures" The course includes "global dialogs" -- weekly conversataions between Princeton students in the class and a guest speaker. Questions for the guest speaker are submitted in advance and voted up/down.
  • Regular communication: There is a weekly letter from the professor on course mechanics and content.
  • Synchronous office hours (Q and A): Neither the professor nor the TA hold syncrhonous office hours.
  • Staffing: There is a single TA who helps with the preparation of the quizzes and other material.
  • Intellectual property: The video lectures are copyrighted by Professor Adelman as opposed to his employer (Princeton university), the host (Coursera) or a Creative Commons licence.
  • Course origin: The course was not "born digital" -- it was repurposed from a tradtional class.
  • Cost: The course is free
  • Professor's Forum: Jeremy Adelman and Melissa Teixeira Discuss Weekly Lectures
  • General Discussion: Discussion and questions about the course.
  • Topical Forum: History and Technology: Please post discussions and questions specifically about technology.
  • Topical Forum, Ideas and Faiths: Please post discussions and questions specifically about ideas and faiths.
  • Topical Forum, Environment: Please post discussions and questions specifically about the environment.
  • Topical Forum, Empires, States, and Politics: Discussion and questions specifically about empires, states, and politics.
  • Topical Forum, Commerce, Production, Economy: Please post discussions and questions specifically about commerce, production and economy.
  • Lectures: Please post discussions and questions specifically about the lectures.
  • Global Dialogues: Submit questions for upcoming Global Dialogues at Princeton or discuss past Dialogues.
  • Study Groups: Find friends and arrange meet ups!
  • Readings: Discussion and questions about the suggested readings.
  • Assignments: Use this thread to discuss issues related to the assignments.
  • Additional Materials for Reference and Research: Use this thread to discuss additional materials for reference and research.
  • Who we are?: Use this forum to discuss and post questions about who we are, where we are from and why we should care.
  • Technical issues: Bug reports on the content of videos or web platform issues.

#digilit #jiscdiglit #highered #edreform #MOOC #pedagogy #EDUCAUSE #bonkopen