Week 4: Insights from an Indian MOOC by Professor Asha Kanwar and Dr. Venkataraman Balaji

Asha Kanwar, Commonwealth of Learning

Professor Asha S. Kanwar, President & Chief Executive Officer, Commonwealth of Learning, CANADA , E-mail: akanwar

Professor Asha Singh Kanwar, one of the world’s leading advocates for learning for development, became President & Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) on 1 June 2012. 

Professor Kanwar joined COL as Education Specialist, Higher Education, on 1 March 2003 with the major responsibility of working with Commonwealth governments and organisations in policy and systems development, within the context of open and distance learning (ODL). On 1 April 2006, she became Vice President and assumed additional responsibility as Programme Director in April 2007. As Vice President, she was specifically responsible for stakeholder engagement and programme direction.

Dr. Venkataraman Balaji, Commonwealth of Learning

Dr. Venkataraman Balaji, a specialist in the area of Information and Communication Technology applied to rural development, joined COL on September 1, 2010. He has been active with his students and colleagues in the area of Learning Technology as well, for close to a decade. He received the World Technology Award in the Education category in 2001 (www.wtn.net).

There is a growing interest in MOOCs in many developing countries. Let me take one example from India. Earlier this year, a MOOC on software architecture and cloud computing was conceptualized and offered for six weeks during January and February by Professor Prabhakar of Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IITK) and Dr Balwinder Sodhi of IIT Ropar (IITR). They identified Canvas, an open source LMS, as the suitable platform and found it capable of scaling up even if several hundred learners connected at the same time. This was also an adequate tool for course-authoring, discussion space and e-portfolios. Instead of depending on the platforms used by the ‘big three’ Coursera, Udacity and EdX, the team built all the components required to offer their own MOOC.

The course material was offered at three levels: one, it was open for anyone to browse; two, learners would need to register to attempt the assignments; and three, the learners would need to pay a registration fee of INR 900 (USD18) to get a certificate.  That makes this MOOC partially ‘open’. The reason for this was to discourage non-serious participants.  Based on the data collected through the learning analytics module, the learner received a certificate signed by the faculty on behalf of IIT Kanpur. A horses for courses approach, as we can see.

The course started with just under a 1000 registrants, 470 of whom opted to pay the certification fee.  Subsequently, 370 received certificates, a 37% success rate. This smaller MOOC demonstrated a much higher success rate than the bigger MOOCs which typically show completion rates of under 10%.

It became clear that a MOOC was more an event like a conference and less like an interactive online course. A significant quantity of additional content was generated through discussions among learners and between the learners and facilitators. This process continued well beyond the duration of the course just as we see in the case of conferences. Also evident was the fact that the ‘flipped’ class model had now become the norm. A major challenge, however, was that the teachers had to be prepared to handle multiple threads of discussions and questions.

Just as it is very challenging for teachers to make the transition from print to online mode, MOOC facilitators require a further orientation to adapt and deliver courses in the new medium. From this experience, the team concluded that it is better to design smaller chunks of content; use automated assessment and develop better systems to prevent cheating.

These are some of the initial findings from this early experiment in a developing country. It is significant to note that this was a continuing professional development initiative rather than a programme that would contribute to an academic degree. From all available indications, this seems to be the general trend in the developing world.

Open and distance learning have been operating in this space for over forty years.  The higher education community, in their bid to deploy MOOCs, have much to learn from them.

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