At the forefront of education: Massive Open Online Course

Mooc

At the forefront of education: MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)
How to incorporate MOOCs into curriculum of University of Applied Sciences

Introduction:
Since late 2011, MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) has been experiencing a rapid expansion and gaining significant popularity in higher education. It is getting sprouting anywhere around the globe. According to Minister Bussemaker, MOOC is an unavoidable trend for colleges or universities being ambitious to stand at the forefront of education (Rijksoverheid, 2014). On the front page, MOOCs are characterized by its low price (most of them are free), and flexible learning schedule. The opportunities to enter virtual university classrooms are enjoyed by teenagers as well as working labors and 65+ people. Concerning learning effectiveness, MOOCs are featured as autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness (Downes, 2009), providing chances for students to plan their study flexibly, for instance, ambitious students such as those from the honour program may have more opportunities to dip into interdisciplinary studies given by leading universities.

Incorporating MOOCs into the landscape of higher education will enrich the blended-learning designs as well, such as combining online courses with face-to-face classroom instruction. However, Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) have their unique instructional features that are not on par with that of MOOC. Moreover, at the current stage, MOOC is also facing various doubt and harsh critics possible due to the high drop-out rate. Up to now, there is very little research or educational actions exploring how University of Applied Sciences can benefit from MOOCs and how MOOCs can be incorporated into traditional, accredited curriculum in a cost-effective manner. Questions such as “what is the effective way for students in higher education to benefit from MOOC” remains unknown.

This research proposal aims at exploring a feasible and cost-effective model to incorporate MOOCs into University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands with the ultimate goal to stand out at the global forefront of education. We will first give a brief analysis of the advantages and problems of MOOCs in higher education. Then, the preliminary results from our questionnaire survey will be presented. Based on that, we propose a large scale and two-fold research plan to thoroughly understand the attitudes and knowledge of teaching staff and students in HBOs.

  1. MOOCs in Higher Education
    Learning for free from top-rated universities is no longer a dream. Three major MOOC providers, Coursera, edX, and Udacity, are now providing a great variety of online free courses with high instructional quality. Courses from Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale, Columbia and other top universities are increasing their MOOC courses at these websites, ranging from business administration to life science, architecture to literature, etc. We take the business subjects at Coursera as an example and tabulate the possibilities of course during the study period Jan~April, 2014, see Appendix 1. Looking at the table, it can be noticed that besides current courses of the bachelor program, students have the opportunities to advance their knowledge in a key area, and learn more about the business world they will be working in. Besides, MOOCs can augment the portfolio of students’ experiences (Sadlouskos, 2013).
  1. Being Engaged into an International Learning Community
    According to Siemens (2009b), with the popularity of MOOCs, the traditional higher education characterized by closed group and highly structured courses are being re-conceived. Students are being exposed to open networks, no longer dependent on tutors. Besides the online video lessons, one important learning channel of MOOCs is their discussion forum where students are encouraged to share their learning experiences to support each other. In order to complete the course successfully, it is highly recommended that students need to delve into their online classes and keep active in the discussion forum. Often the instructors as well as the teaching assistants (TA) are also active in the forum. In comparison with face-to-face interaction, asynchronous communication is not fast-paced and students can concentrate on their self-reflections. Besides, anonymous communication which is allowed, can be useful for students to feel free to raise any content-related questions.
  1. Opportunities of Interdisciplinary Study
    Given the increasingly complicated level of specialization, it is almost impossible for one single university to cover all disciplines at academic level. With MOOCs, students can be interest-driven and have the opportunities to explore alternative career paths by engage in interdisciplinary studies. For example, students who major in business administration can follow the course of “Programming Mobile Applications for Android Handheld Systems” by University of Maryland to explore whether they can use apps to set up their business plan.
  1. Adapting to the Rapid Change of Global Labor Market
    In the eye-opening book, Average Is Over, written by the economist and bestselling author, Tyler Cowen, it states that nearly every business sector relies less and less on manual labor. The future of work will be about working with intelligent machines and our working effectiveness will be heavily dependent on our education. MOOC as a new way of learning supplements current education systems. Cowan argues that intelligent and ambitious learners may make full use of MOOC to get ahead, driven by the hunger for knowledge instead of a desire to show off talents. In Hanze UAS, we have various honours programs tailored to intelligent and ambitious students. This group of students should be on the priority list for using the platform of MOOC to expand their knowledge and get more chances to step into interdisciplinary study.
  1. Problems when incorporating MOOCs into University of Applied Sciences:
    Although the broad acceptance of MOOC worldwide, it remains as a compelling and controversial topic for university faculty and administrators as well. There is still a long way to go in terms of its incorporation into higher education in terms of students’ satisfaction and high drop-out rate, etc., especially when we take the instructional features of University of Applied Sciences into account.
  1. Features of University of Applied Sciences
    Unlike research universities, University of Applied Sciences are featured as small-class instruction, intensive group work and focus on application of the knowledge. In contrast, the total number of MOOC enrollers for one course can be 110,000, see the example of “Introduction to Operations Management” given by University of Pennsylvania (Stein, 2013). Secondly, at this stage, the majority of home assignment of MOOCs is at an individual level, the same as its assessment. Group work is seldom to find among all MOOC courses. Thirdly, due to the limitation of distance education and digital assessment, MOOCs courses stress the delivery and production of knowledge, instead of application.
  1. Drop-out Rate:
    The Graduate School of Education of University of Pennsylvania has conducted a research on sixteen MOOC courses at Coursera.org (Stein, 2013), which were provided by this university. It was found that on average only 4% of the enrollers successfully complete the courses. Students fall off dramatically especially after the first 1-2 weeks. Although some instructional variables are not significant indicators for successful completion, such as course length, availability of live chat, this high dropout rate needs to be taken into consideration while incorporating MOOCs into traditional curriculum of higher education.
  1. Students’ satisfaction:
    Up to date, there is no systematic and comprehensive educational survey on European students’ satisfaction on MOOC courses. It is difficult to conclude that students have a general positive attitude towards MOOC experiences.
  1. Time-schedule:
    Most courses at Coursera.org are time-constraint although the video lessons are usually open to the public. Some courses are seven-week long, while some are fifteen-week long. The schedule may not completely match the teaching and exam schedule of the Dutch university. In this case, some flipped classrooms might be suitable to get integrated into traditional curriculums.
  1. Accreditation / trust:
    Accreditation is crucial for every higher education system. It keeps questioning the administers of higher education how the credentialing in universities happens in this digital era. Upon students’ successful completion of a MOOC course, they will receive a certificate of completion by the course-provider university. At Coursera, students can also sign for a signature track system, which means that they will receive a signed certificate by the university upon successful completion. However, there is still no rule that they can receive corresponding credits from their own university. Teachers who are doubt of the credentialing mostly focus on the question, “Is it possible for students to cheat in order to complete the course successfully?”

Door Ning DING, PhD.

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