MOOCs, massive online open courses, such as Coursera and MIT and Harvard’s EDx have been the talk of the educational town for the past few months. While the concept is not an entirely novel phenomenon, recent technological innovations in streaming video in addition to the backing of several top universities have made them wildly popular; validating the “M” in MOOC (Coursera alone has about 4 million users).
MOOCs have been a controversial topic with some educational experts seeing them as the rebirth of higher education and others; like Amherst’s Stephen A. George (who recently led the faculty’s rejection of partnering edX) who regard it more as its demise. The majority of the debate on MOOCs centers on the (supposed) benefits that face students. But don’t teachers stand to be impacted just as much if not more than students? Why then is the dialogue so student-centric? Today, we are going to focus on our thoroughly underappreciated and unrecognized teachers and discuss how MOOCs can benefit them as well.
1. MOOCs Allow Participating Professors to Rethink Their Course
Typically, a professor who has taught the same course for a few years has his lectures, syllabus, and material more or less set in stone. By joining a MOOC, teachers can look at their course with completely new eyes. Take Professor Gregory Nagy of Harvard University. For the past 35 years, Nagy has been teaching his very popular class “Concepts of the Hero in Classical Greek Civilization”. Nagy has moved his class to the online realm offering his course, re-dubbed “The Ancient Greek Hero”, on edX. The course forced Nagy to completely rethink his course that he has been teaching for the better part of half a century by dividing his lectures into 24, 1 hour long, segments and further subdividing those sections into dramatic clips. Nagy claims, “I had this real revelation…and I thought, My God, Greg, you’ve been spoiled by the system!”
Additionally, colleagues who teach similar courses can see how experts like Nagy teach their material. This helps professors by indirectly giving them teaching tips and ways to structure their course as well as directly providing them with knowledge they may not have known that they can apply to their own lectures.
2. MOOCs Encourage Teachers to Become Tech Savvy
MOOCs are not just a tool to teach students; they are also being used to educate teachers. New Teacher Center (NTC) has partnered with Coursera to offer a high quality solution to develop young K-12 teachers. NTC plans on providing courses such as “First Year Teaching-Success from the Start“, that provide lessons and strategies aimed at “setting and communicating expectations to students”, “building positive relationships with and between students”, “behavioral preventions and interventions”, “organizing the learning environment”, and “establishing and maintaining routines and procedures that support student learning.” NTC is also rolling out more subject related courses such as Literacy Design Collaborative” and “Math Design Collaborative” that focus primarily on developing teaching skills for their respective concentrations.
NTC Founder and CEO Ellen Moir says that she started NTC because she saw an unfortunate number of the best and brightest new teachers quit their profession due to a lack of adequate support. She believes that through MOOCs, NTC can reach a much wider array of teachers that could not be previously reached. She writes, ” In the future teachers will increasingly take responsibility for their own professional learning and it is our job to ensure they have easy access to high-quality professional development opportunities. This is a step in that direction.”
3. MOOCs Provide Analytics that Improve Learning
MIT physics professor David Pritchard has been using data from MOOCs to see how students use their course material. Pritchard’s findings suggest that students are more likely to use videos as a tool to aid in homework problems but are more often utilizing the online textbook for exams. This raises significant questions about the effectiveness of textbook learning.
Pritchard is not the only professor gathering data from MOOCs. Experimenting professors love MOOCs as they provide an absurdly large sample size in a naturally randomized setting. Professors, like Pritchard, are using A/B testing where one fraction receives one educational experience and the other fraction receives a different kind and then measure the difference in performance (course completement, grades, etc.) to show which educational experience is more effective.
But how do they gather this data? MOOCs track every click. This means that when a student pauses, rewinds, clicks one answer, fast forwards, etc. it is being recorded. The massive amounts of data that this provides on student behavior is staggering. President of edX Anarat Angarwal estimates that his first course alone received 230 million clicks- providing enough data to fill 110,000 research books by Pritchard’s estimations.
Check out Coursera co-founder and Stanford Professor Daphne Koller explains the benefits of data gathering in this TED talk clip.