‘MOOC’ trend draws attention of some KSU profs

Audrey Fletcher

When Karl Ulrich, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, teaches “Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society,” he reaches 40,000 students at one time.

“In my entire 25-year career I’ve taught product design to about 1,000 students,” Ulrich said in an email. “The impact is enormous.”

Ulrich teaches a massive open online course, or MOOC, a new type of free distance learning used by professors at top-tier universities across the country and turning the heads of some Kent State professors on campus.

Valerie Kelly, Kent State’s director of online learning, said she enrolled in this course because it was applicable to her job in instructional design, which includes designing online classes for students at Kent State. However, she wanted to see how a MOOC was set up.

“For me to audit a course and pick up pointers and pick up ‘OK, how do graphic designers or visual designers think about these things and how does it relate to my field?’ Well, that really works really well,” Kelly said. “It’s very useful.”

Although it would be difficult for her to use an actual design program, she said, she still gained valuable insights from the course.

Kent State associate professor Larry Marks’s Principles of Marketing class is not a MOOC, but he uses several of the same methods as MOOC professors do to teach his course. About five years ago, Marks started filming his in-class lectures and posting them online in various formats.

Marks said he was interested in presenting information to students in different ways depending on each student’s needs. He said he is as large scale as you want him to be.

“I was interested in how somebody else did it,” Marks said. “When I saw the results, as far I was concerned, I thought, ‘I’m doing as well as they are.”

“I’ve actually had people from New Zealand, on their own, find the material because it’s freely available, take the class not for credit as though it were a MOOC,” Marks said. “They’ve actually contacted me and asked me about it or thanked me.”

Marks said these students simply wanted to learn more about marketing.

Marks decided to enroll in a MOOC about artificial intelligence through Stanford University because he wanted to see how the classes were taught and the topic interested him.

“I was interested in how somebody else did it,” Marks said. “When I saw the results, as far I was concerned, I thought, ‘I’m doing as well as they are.’”

Potential problems

Kent State’s strategic plan for online learning does not include MOOCs because it believes in more interactive online teaching.

As a part of online development here — which includes about 500 online courses and plans for fully online degree programs — Kelly said the university focuses on developing a sense of community, making sure the instructor has a social presence and implementing interaction in the classes.

“We’re really interested in what are the interactions between the student and the instructor, what are the interactions between the students, what is the feedback and the evaluation the instructor is giving the student,” Kelly said.

Kelly said this includes making sure students have the opportunity for one-on-one interaction with professors.

Grading in some courses, such as Ulrich’s, is done by peers, while in others, such as in the one Marks took, is done by computers.

“You just have a lot of issues around how do you evaluate. If you have 10,000 students, how are you really critiquing or evaluating those materials? How do you certify that somebody learned something?” Kelly said.

Kelly and Deborah Huntsman said they see the potential of MOOCs in several areas.

These potential uses include:

· recognizing the importance of peer-to-peer interaction

· sharing and reusing information packaged by professors all over the world

· creating opportunities for students to learn from prestigious faculty at no cost

Students who enroll in MOOCs have different levels of knowledge, Kelly said, and some students do not consistently participate in the course.

She said it would be difficult to show employers what completing a MOOC means because of these different levels of interaction.

Deborah Huntsman, executive director of continuing and distance education, said Kent State faces another problem with implementing MOOCs because no set business model has been developed. Because MOOCs enroll thousands of students, some schools with no additional revenue from the courses need to hire more advisers.

“Taking on the administration of a program that potentially could enroll a thousand or more students would require some dedicated staff to support it,” Huntsman said. “There is obviously a significant cost that goes along with that.”

Some schools may start charging students who complete the course for letters of completion.

Ulrich said nothing is particularly difficult about teaching a MOOC. However, he said it takes about 400 hours to teach an eight-week MOOC, which is about twice the amount of time he invests in a regular course.

Ulrich said MOOCs let students receive instruction from prestigious faculty, watch efficient and relevant video content and take courses at their convenience.

Amy Collier, the director for online technology and teaching in the office of the vice provost for online learning at Stanford University, said that the ability of MOOCs to enroll students from different countries provides a unique experience for students.

“It’s really interesting when learners on campus have the opportunity to interact with learners around the world and to find out what people around the world are thinking, what assumptions they bring to the table, what experiences they bring to the table,” Collier said. “I think there is a real richness to having a global community kind of wrapped around the university community.”

Huntsman said she thinks MOOCs are interesting, but they are just the latest development in higher education.

“The last decade has just been full of enhancements and changes in organizations that provide different services,” Huntsman said. “There’s hardly a day that goes by that something major doesn’t happen to something related to online learning.”

Contact Audrey Fletcher at [email protected].