Monday, March 18, 2013

Chronicle of Higher Education survey of MOOC professors

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published the results of a non-scientific survey of professors who have taught a MOOC. The online questionnaire was sent to 184 professors in late February, and 103 of them responded.

My favorite result was the answer to the question "Has the experience of teaching a MOOC inspired you to change the way you teach the traditional classroom version of the course" -- 73.7 percent of the respondents answered "yes."

Even if MOOCs are a flash in the pan, they trigger innovation in pedagogy, technology and certification, just as online teaching material will take us beyond the traditional textbook.

I was also struck by the completion rate. The median number enrolled was 33,000 and the median number who completed the course with a passing grade was 2,600. This was achieved by a median of 1 teaching assistant and 8 hours per week of the professor's time.

In a recent blog post, I asked whether a MOOC with 700 active students was a bad deal. If we can teach 2,600 students, we can justify a full time professor and production costs -- what could you accomplish if you worked full time on teaching one class and had good support?

Check the Chronicle article to see the rest of the results, and be sure to note that there are three tabs at the top of the page -- an article, the survey results and quotes from eight of the professors.


  1. Anonymous7:40 AM

    Hi Larry,
    The "completion rate" often implies "academic success." However, that is not the appropriate interpretation with many MOOC's. A student can "pass" many of these with minimal effort.

    1. For sure -- none of these terms is well defined and this was a non-random survey, but we don't have much data on MOOCs yet. Also, students often "pass" face to face classes with minimal effort and, while they "complete" the class, that does not imply "academic success."

      Regardless, I think MOOCs will lead to innovation in technology, pedagogy and certification.

  2. Anonymous9:58 AM

    In that case, it would seem, that what we are saying is that we can (or already do) live with passing any type of class with minimal effort. Or, since "effort" is perhaps a bit subjective, with minimal competence. MOOC's help us to perpetuate this fallacy on a grand scale. One thinks of the recent case of the Irvine professor who became concerned about the large quantities of, participant-generated, disinformation scattered throughout the discussion forums in his MOOC. He, evidently, sought to correct this problem in vain as there was not enough time in a day for him adequately to intervene--not with 10,000 misguided postings. So, he quit in "Mid-MOOC." It is not clear what "technology" will be available to solve this type of problem. Of course, one could always hire a cadre of student interns to perform the task of supervising the course.

    1. In my mind, MOOCs are not all bad or all good and it is still way to early to assess their appropriate use and impact.

      In my face-face classes, I give a few As a more Bs a lot of Cs and a few Ds and very few Fs. The D and low C students do not learn much and do not put in much effort. I think I am an above average teacher. My guess is the face-face situation is worse for below average teachers. That sort of distribution will occur in MOOCs or conventional online courses.

      As far as innovation goes -- many of the respondents in the Chronicle survey said teaching a MOOC would change the way they taught face to face. That is innovation. I think we will also learn something about the granularity of presentation and feedback "chunks." Another example -- I would like an improved video player -- one in which the student could vary the speed of playback and have "chapter" in-points remain correct. I would also like the player to gather data on the speeds students watched at, their frequency of pause and replay, etc. and feed that back to me for improvement and research. These are off the top of my head. There will hopefully be many others over the years. The Internet is a new medium, and it is going to allow us to do new things -- not just distribute digital facsimiles of print textbooks and their ancillary material. That is like putting old wine in a new bottle.

      As to the guy at Irvine, here is what I had to say a while back on that experience: