How Coursera Could Walk the Talk About MOOC-wrapping

Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera, wrote an article in Forbes this week about the possibility of MOOC-wrapping and mixed models of online/traditional delivery that incorporate free globally offered online courses. I’m glad they are looking at this. I’ve been talking about this option quite a bit on this blog for quite a while, and I’m currently engaged in trying to put a wrapping project together here at Keene State around the Coursera-offered Passion-Driven Statistics course.

There are, however, a lot of obstacles to the MOOC-wrapping paradigm, most of them created by the manner in which Coursera chooses to offer courses. I will list some of the challenges we have faced in trying to do this here in the hope that if Coursera is truly serious about pursuing this they can address them.

  • No class preview. I want to pitch a class to a faculty member as a potential for a wrapped experience. The faculty member, quite rightly, wants to review the structure and the content of the course before committing, both so that they can adequately structure the wrapper and so that they feel comfortable with the content and approach. But there is no way to do that six months out from a class. We get maybe a video or a blurb. It’s very hard to sell faculty on blindly trusting the course. The solution would be to post OCW style materials well before the course — syllabus, reading list, a sample lecture.
  • Semester-unaware scheduling. For a direct to consumer product, the staggered start times are probably a plus — there’s always a new class starting at Coursera, right? For people trying to integrate these into a semester it is a slice of hell. About 90% of the catalog is unusable in a traditional semester course due to start time or end time issues. And yes, I know — the world has different start times, there are schools that are on the quarter system or trimesters. But a good portion of the world starts first semester courses around September and ends around December, and starts second semester courses in January and ends beginning of May. There could be more accomodation of that.
  • No regular offerings, few hard dates in advance. I’m taking an Obesity Economics Coursera course. While there have been some glitches, the content has been great, and I can see this course being embedded in several other courses we offer at Keene State. But when is it being offered again? I don’t have a clue. I understand Coursera wants the flexibilty to not re-run low-enrolled courses. But we have to finalize our semester schedule as much as eight months before running a course, and have to start planning well before that.

That said, there are some things Coursera is doing that help, and could be further advanced:

  • One to two credit courses are wonderful. Keep it up. The Obesity Economics course, a one credit equivalent experience, is a wonderful example of how many ways a low credit experience could be utilized in a class. We have four credit courses here, and they are supposed to be integrative. So you can imagine taking a standard 3 credit economics course and combining it with the 1 credit equivalent Obesity Econ course. Instant integration of econ with policy. Likewise, the Passion-Driven Statistics course we are working on is a “quarter” course, starting mid-semester. Here the small one credit nature of it allows us to run it as a two-credit course where one credit comes from the MOOC, and one credit comes from the wrapper.
  • Courses with a project also work well. Passion-Driven Statistics has students work on a project, and this has turned out to be a great help to our design of the wrapper. We assume that students are coming out of the MOOC with some sort of project, and we can use the wrapper to engage in student-teacher and student-student evaluation of that project in ways that are difficult in the MOOC. In coding terms, I tend to think of the project as the “return variable” from the MOOC subroutine. The MOOC kicks that back up to us, and we dig in to the result.
  • Drilling on Content is OK. Coursera has gotten some flack for the content-focus in some MOOCs. One interesting piece of MOOC-wrapping is that since a lot of the higher-order skills can be exercised in the wrapper portion of the class, the use of MOOC time to reinforce more lower-order stuff is less problematic. In fact, it’s a bit of a blessing if the MOOC is dealing with some of the entry-level stuff that the F2F instructor doesn’t want to spend class time on.

That’s probably enough now, although as we work on our project over here, I’m sure many other things will come to mind. So brace yourself for Part II…

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