MOOCathon in Barcelona

DSC06496During the EFQUEL Innovation Forum 2013 in Barcelona we held a three session long MOOCathon. The aim was to present and reflect on the findings of the MOOC Quality Project and ask participants to identify key issues for further study.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) represent the latest stage in the evolution of open educational resources. First was open access to course content, and then access to free online courses. Accredited institutions are now accepting MOOCs as well as free courses and experiential learning as partial credit toward a degree. The next disruptor will likely mark a tipping point: an entirely free online curriculum leading to a degree from an accredited institution. MOOCs are moving from an early entrepreneurial stage into the reality of more and more educational institutions. Gaining participants, visibility and a growing community worldwide in many occasions the question rises to the surface: Are MOOCs the new model of online education for all? Are they fit to democratize education? and above all – what is a good quality MOOC?

The MOOC Quality Project, an initiative of EFQUEL, addresses the question of quality and MOOCs, not by trying to find one answer which fits all, but by trying to stimulate a discourse on the issue of Quality of MOOCs. A series of blog posts from worldwide experts and entrepreneurs  the field address the issue from each participant’s viewpoint.

The Barcelona MOOCathon was divided into three sessions:

  • Background to the MOOC Quality Project, setting the scene and exploring the topic for the next parts of the workshop. In his session the seven main findings from the MOOC Quality Project was discussed.

  • Presentations of some current EU Initiatives in a learning café format.

  • A presentation of the newly released EC Communication on Opening up education by Yves Punie, IPTS followed by a round-up discussion.

From the expert blog posts we had identified seven key discussion areas in MOOC quality and in the first session participants were asked, in groups, to reflect and discuss how quality could be assured in each area. The seven areas are presented below with some of the conclusions from the groups.

  1. Massive (and often unspecified) target group
    Try to identify all possible types of participants (define their objectives)
    Try to develop different types of:
    – contents/content modules
    – interactivity needed
    – assessment of learning instruments (to allow different concurrent paths)
    Can be mobilized for benchmarking
    Provide a framework of competence to define different learning paths
    Use the term “observer” rather than “lurker” for better acceptance of the participants role
    Research and students’ expectations and satisfaction
    Expectations and reality
    Declare your role (profile) in the beginning and make it possible to change it

  2. Mixing groups (eg regular campus students and MOOC participants)
    Monitoring (rules for behaviour)
    Giving participants for both groups of learners (students, externals, professionals)
    Define levels of success
    New ways to define learning success outcomes
    Providing awards (formal-informal learning)
    Learners benefits awards for all

  3. Learning across contexts
    Goal peer to peer – Quality Assurance
    Who sets the standards?
    C2C (crowd-2-crowd learners)
    You need a model designed
    – beforehand, but evaluate as you go
    – model evaluation by community/crowd
    Coach/train students in P2P (peer to peer) feedback and P2P assessment
    Model for P2P/C2C, different broadcast models
    P2P for validation (must include experts) and for recommendation.
    Adapt to changing learning outcomes
    – translate course material
    – let community/crowd change the rules/habitats

  4. Declaration of contents (pre-course information)
    Recommendation depends on what the MOOCs are like
    Declare what´s in the course. Make clear if it’s cMOOC or xMOOC etc
    How to put the recommendation into practice:
    – open, visible, try out
    – search: analogy – hotel for holiday
    -Trip Advisor for MOOCs
    -Short description about; videos, text, certificate, discussion etc

  5. Peer to peer pedagogy
    The participants has to be well prepared for self organization
    P2P scaffolding
    FAQs available + trustworthy answers
    Identify How to…
    Automatic identification of needs
    Identify mentors from the participants

  1. MOOCs supporting choice based learning
    More choice, but  ”investment” determines whether to stay or leave?
    Don´t know enough about behaviour
    Should be some structure, some programme
    – better for learners
    – prevent drop-out
    – not easy for all to organize selves (if unaccustomed to learning)
    – how do you create community peer learning?
    Difficulty in encouraging open access to materials
    Students on traditional programmes may pay fee

  1. The seventh recommenation was not discused, but the theme was Support and self organization

A further question that was discussed was the pejorative term lurker often used to describe passive participants in a MOOC who simply observe and never contribute. One suggestion was to instead use the term observer which has no negative connotations and reflects how many learners prefer to approach a new and unfamiliar form of learning. It is perfectly possible to learn a lot from observing and there should be no negative implications. The C2C concept was also discussed as a new phenomenon brought about through the MOOC movement. As MOOCs are chosen by individuals interest and demands, the term choice based learning was coined.

The second session consisted of presentations of some current European initiatives using a learning café format with participants moving from table to table and discussing with the presnters. Participants were asked to write one key lesson/conclusion each; What did you learn about how to address quality in MOOCs? The initiatives presented were:

  1. Openuped project introduction – Darco Jansen, EADTU

  2. Portuguese Openuped project (iMOOC) – Antonio Teixeira, Universidade Aberta

  3. Formal Standardization for MOOCs – Sandra Feliciano, Instituto Politécnico do Porto and Gérard Vidal, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon

  4. AbiertaUGR: a MOOC framework based on online learning communities, Miguel Gea, University of Granada

  5. Hands-on ICT – Good practice of MOOCs in teacher training, Sarah Younie, De Montford University

The participants’ conclusions from these discussions brought up a number of interesting areas to investigate further.

  • It has been claimed that every letter in the acronym MOOC is negotiable and the key word is undoubtedly open. Many courses claim to be open but the course material is copyright and the question is how open is open? Could we distinguish between a MOOC which is genuinely open (using OER) and a MOC (Massive Online Course) which has proprietary resources?

  • An important aspect of running a MOOC was labelled by one participant as expectation management; a flexible approach to dealing with and adapting to learners’ expectations.

  • The need to define and develop a culture of sharing within the course. Many learners are unused to sharing knowledge, collaborating and thinking creatively. These skills need to be introduced and fostered to create interaction and engagement.

  • Diversity of approaches. MOOCs can be true examples of flexible learning and course design should aim for a diversity of approaches that will suit an extremely diverse target group.

  • Transparency is essential to the success of a MOOC. This means that structure, learning paths, pedagogy, routines, material, assessment and examination are clearly stated from the start so that learners can decide if this is an appropriate course.

  • Standardization of what? How can we standardise such a nebulous concept and how can we establish ground rules for a moving target?

  • Informal/formal. MOOCs are mostly seen as informal learning today but are increasingly being integrated into formal structures. This is at present an uneasy mix and needs careful investigation.

  • We have to rethink teaching and learning in general and MOOCs can facilitate this process.

The seven recommendations from the MOOC Quality Project blogposts proved to be relevant to the participants in the MOOCathon, representing a wide variety of countries and professions. The MOOCathon day in some ways resembled a real MOOC with a wide diversity of experiences and expectations. Some participants were advanced MOOC learners whereas some were new in the field. We didn’t experience any serious drop-out rates but the group was rather fluid with some participants staying for all the three sessions whereas others came and went during the day.

It was agreed that MOOCs and open education require different quality indicators than those traditionally used in higher education. The European Commission’s new Opening up education initiative states that quality issues must be rethought and revalued. The EC has set out eight recommendations which institutions and authorities need to focus on:

  • reviewing their organisational strategies

  • exploiingt the potential of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

  • stimulating innovative learning practices such as blended learning

  • equipping teachers with high digital competences

  • equipping learners with digital skills

  • thinking about how to validate and recognise learner’s achievements in online education

  • making high quality Open Education Resources  (OER) visible and accessible

Each of these points raise issues regarding quality and quality development. The debate continues.

Ebba Ossiannilsson, Alastair Creelman, Ulf Ehlers

One thought on “MOOCathon in Barcelona

  1. Benchmarking has become a popular way of stating the parameters of quality education for different academic degrees. What are you finding to be 3 important bench marks for evaluating the quality of a MOOC at the Bachelor or Master or Doctoral levels?

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