Falling through the cracks in a MOOC

It’s Monday, the start of a new semester and academic year at Ohio Wesleyan, our busiest time of the year. It’s also the start of week 4–the final week–in Foundations for Teaching for Learning, the Coursera course I’ve got to be failing because I’ve been so busy with other job-related duties and obligations.

And this situation points out one of the biggest failures with MOOCs: the staggeringly high drop-out rate. Reported by Inside Higher Ed in March, it was around 90%! Because MOOCs are using a 1 to many (hundreds of thousands in many cases) or hierarchical pedagogical model, it’s nearly or probably impossible for one instructor to keep tabs on so many students, and there doesn’t seem to be any process or structure in place for getting students to keep tabs on other students. If one fails to watch the course videos and/or turn in the assignments it goes unnoticed by other students, the instructor, and any of the MOOC administrators. I failed to receive any inquiry as to what was going on and why I wasn’t participating. Furthermore, the discussion forum threads that I posted to and subscribed to haven’t seen any other activity–If they had I would have received an email notification. This makes succeeding at a MOOC entirely up to the student and their own gumption. Free to all, but we have to do it all on our own. The MOOC just puts it all out there for anyone to access (if they sign up for it) and pursue on their own. In other words, it’s like an online video tutorial unless you make some friends in the class and share the journey with them. If you don’t, you’re completely on your own.

I’m intrigued by an alternative, the DOCC proposed by FemTechNet. Instead of a massively open online course, it’s a Distributed Online Collaborative Course. As Anne Balsamo, co-facilitator of the first DOCC and Dean of the School of Media Studies at the New School in New York,  says, “Who you learn with is as important as what you learn.”

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