Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hybrid MOOCs

I wrote an earlier post contrasting the goals of the typical introductory statistics course with Sebastian Thrun's goals for the statistics MOOC he recently taught at Udacity.

The usual statistics course is required in many physical and social science majors and its goal is to teach students to evaluate statistical arguments and prepare them for advanced statistics courses if they pursue a research career.

Thrun's is a short, elective, general studies course and his goal is to inspire students. In describing his course, he wrote that statistics is "a highly intuitive field -- a field full of magic and surprises. I aspired to share these insights with everyone, and to have students experience them by working on interesting problems."

Much of the material in the traditional statistics course can be captured in short, interactive MOOC video lessons, but what of the motivation and enjoyment Thrun seeks to provide? Can we deliver that in a MOOC?

Hybrid MOOCs may do the trick.

Let me use a course I teach in a conventional classroom as an example. It is an introductory digital literacy course geared to the Internet era -- a general education class in which I present the skills and concepts one needs for success as a student and after graduation as a professional and a citizen.

I have developed modular course material that can be presented in person or shown as Udacity-like interactive videos.

But, that is only part of the class. Much of our classroom time is devoted to "discussion," in which I present and we discuss current developments. I prepare these discussions each week and no two are alike. Discussion topics might include difficulty they had with the previous week's assignment -- common misconceptions. I also include things that occurred to me to add to the previous week's presentation after the class was over or things that came up in one section, but not the other. (I teach two sections).

I also maintain a class blog on which I post current events that are relevant to our class, and we discuss them. For example, this week part of our discussion period was devoted to a post on Google's Kansas City fiber project. That post gives us plenty to talk about that is relevant to our class -- data transmission speeds and prices, the roles of public and private infrastructure, the digital divide and possible applications of very high speed connectivity.

Capturing and maintaining the portion of the class that I spend on prepared presentations for a MOOC would be expensive, but doable.

I've not tried it, but I would like to capture the ephemeral, discussion portion of the class as well. I would do that by having a weekly class meeting. It could be a face to face meeting in a room with students taking the course or it could be online, for example in a Google "on air" hangout. (Good coverage of a studio classroom would be expensive). Either way, the class session would be broadcast on the Net.

Those watching the broadcast in real time would be able to ask questions and make comments during the class. That might be done through chat with a screener or with some sort of voting-up scheme.

Regardless, the broadcast would be recorded for archival viewing by students who were not able to watch the live session. The chat stream, transcripts and other ancilary material would be available as well.

A hybrid class would be expensive to produce, but it could serve a mass audience. Is anyone doing this sort of thing? Do you think it would be effective?

#mooc #highered #edreform #pedagogy #bonkopen #educause