Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World

MOOCs as community??

Here at Athabasca University we’ve finally begun serious talk about our approach to MOOCs.

We are working through two models, trying to decipher the pros and cons of each or both. These are:

  1. Run one of more of our own MOOCs, based in whole or part on our current online courses. In order to be a MOOC, the courses should be free and that creates some challenges. Obviously a revenue or substantial service model needs to be developed for sustainability.
  2. Cherry-pick a few MOOCs, offered by others, and after asserting that they are equivalent to an AU course allow and promote students to challenge the course for AU Credit.

Both models offer challenges. Giving credit for work outside our traditional online courses is a scary option as it may lay us open to critique for being not a rigorous school and giving our very transferable credits away too easily.  However, rare  amongst most universities, Athabasca already has an approved Challenge Exam Policy for many of our undergrad courses. This means that may students register and schedule an invigilated exam that covers the course materials. They can buy textbooks if they choose. They get no library, tutor, counselling or other academic support. However,  the number of students going this route has dropped substantially – to less than 1,000 year when we upped the fee to $354.   Many are worried that if we reduced the fee to the $30-60 range that Coursera charges for its “signature track” too many of our regular students would opt for the cheaper option which is about 40% or so less than our regular tuition.  I think the market value for challenge accreditation should be closer to $125 which should easily cover our admin costs. This MOOC for credit option is cheaper, easier and initially of lower service value but it may appeal to a whole new class of learners – Sound Familiar?? These are the characteristics of a classic disruptive technology.  Very scary indeed!!

The second debate  at Athabasca revolves around a MOOC platform. There are a number of options available including recent announcements of the availability as open source of the platform used by EdX and Stanford. But here at Athabasca, we are tending to look at ways to re-purpose our existing platforms. Moodle is an obvious choice and in addition we have quite a substantive elgg social networking platform that could be used. New instances of either of these platforms could work.  I think the choice depends on the nature of the MOOC. If the MOOC is of the so called xMooc variety with a tight predefined curriculum and learning outcomes, lots of teach centric videos, quizzes and threaded discussions, then likely MOODLE is best. However for cMOOCs in which students are encouraged to bring and develop their own personalities, web presences and artifacts using an emergent or connectivist pedagogical design, the ELGG based platform with its capacity for student created blogs, bookmarks, tweets, user generated videos, etc. may be best.

I was interested to read the article with Simon Nelson the director of the Uk’s collaborative MOOC consortria FutureLearn  led by the Open University.
Nelson sees FutureLearn as much more than xMOOC delivery platform, and hopes their platform may develop like a Facebook social network for lifelong learning.  We are trying to do this at Athabasca with our Athabasca Landing project – a boutique network, open to all members of our wider Athabasca community. But we are finding that it is hard to win a critical mass of users and to get buy from our administrative services. Academics and students have many options beyond the mega sites of Facebook and LinkedIn and as always, have limited amounts of time and energy. Perhaps with more MOOCs activity would increase, but then we might have to open our “walled garden, with windows” to any who enrolled in a MOOC – regardless of their intent to learn and contribute.

Anyone who has solved all of these issues, please contact us immediately! 🙂


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  1. mikesosteric mikesosteric
    April 10, 2013    

    There are some technologies that allow for scale. I’ve experimented with distributed databases, front end caches, and cloud computing. There is also the option to offload certain of the cMooc style services, like forums (which tend to demand a lot from servers. Standford universities system does this, probably wisely. Some of them are quite easy and cheap to use as well, requiring no more than an account and a button click.

    Platforms like wordpress already have facilities to distribute their databases, as I suspect does Drupal. It might be possible to write something like that into Athabasca Universities ELG software, but the developers would have to speak to that. It could be as easy as ten lines of code if the developers have properly abstracted their database layer


  2. Simon Kear Simon Kear
    April 11, 2013    

    Hi Terry, we’re having a similar discussion here at Goldsmiths about offering MOOCs (although our Computing Department is already offering one on Coursera via University of London International Programs).

    Reading the piece on Simon Nelson, it seems it might be a while before all the universities – like ours – waiting in the wings for FutureLearn can use the platform.

    But I think you might be on the right track with the in-house option. I was part of the OLDS MOOC project team, and the MOOC designers on this opted to use Cloudworks, Google applications and various other cloud technologies. I thought it worked quite well, and walked the walk in terms of openness.

    I guess institutional reputation is important so the selected platform needs to be robust. It’s possible that we could offer a widening participation MOOC here using our Moodle or Mahara – or both.


  3. Jenni Hayman Jenni Hayman
    May 25, 2013    

    Canadian MOOC Platform WideWorldEd launching within the month. No elitism, all Canadian institutions welcome. More cMOOC than x (whatever works best for the learners) and most definitely accessibly open.

No Pings Yet

  1. MOOCs as community?? | Terry Anderson - Virtual Canuck, Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World | Networked Learning - MOOCs and more | Scoop.it on April 9, 2013 at 1:28 am
  2. Virtual Canuck » Blog Archive » MOOCs as community?? | Opening up education | Scoop.it on April 9, 2013 at 1:42 am
  3. MOOCs as community?? | Terry Anderson - Virtual Canuck, Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World | (R)e-Learning | Scoop.it on April 9, 2013 at 2:52 am
  4. Virtual Canuck » Blog Archive » MOOCs as community?? | Web 2.0 och högre utbildning | Scoop.it on April 9, 2013 at 6:10 am
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