Threads and the Wrappable MOOC

Some notes on where I am with MOOC-wrapping right now (with thanks to Amy, Sue, Melinda and everyone else I’ve been bouncing ideas off of).

Right-sizing the wrappable MOOC

My first thought was that a MOOC designed to be wrapped would be best specified at something under the target credits of the course as a whole. So in a simple scenario, you have a course that is an online course spec’d out at 2.5 credits, or an estimated 112 hours of student effort. To that you add 23 or so hours of additional effort/instructor contact in the “wrapper” to get a three credit equivalent course. Voila – you have a DoE-approved 3 credit course, with 135 hours of student time + instruction time, run for only half a credit-hour’s worth of institutional time.

For those that want to try something more ambitious, the wrapped MOOC could be a four credit experience, splitting the first three credits much like above, but leaving 45 hours of room for students to apply their knowledge in an authentic project or community-based experience.

Talking in these credit-hour numbers might seem unromantic, especially if you always grew up knowing you’d have access to face-to-face education. But for those students who have not had access, or have to take on ungodly amounts of debt to get a degree, this formula is pretty extraordinary — even assuming a small cost  to maintain and run the xMOOC core, it puts things like a fifteen to twenty thousand dollar four-year campus-based degree within the grasp of millions.

Rethinking wrapping: Introducing threads

While I still think the two and a half credit MOOC is a perfect size for wrapping, after digging into the Psychology xMOOC it became clear that the institutions wrapping an xMOOC might require more flexibility.

The solution we’ve come up with is threads. Imagine for example, a three credit course consisting of the following elements, along with approximate student time, including studying:

  • 22 Video Lectures, Lecture Review & Video Quizzes: 40 hours
  • 12 Weeks of textbook readings, study, and quizzes: 34 hours
  • 12 Topical Readings, Reading Responses & Peer Evaluations: 12 hours
  • 12 Small Group Online Peer Instruction Sessions: 12 hours
  • Midterm, Multiple Choice (including studying): 12 hours
  • Midterm, Written Portion (open book, untimed): 4 hours
  • Final, Multiple Choice (including studying): 12 hours
  • Final, Written Portion (open book, untimed): 4 hours

So there you go — a 135-hour course. We could strip out some stuff to get down to the 2.5 credits.

But a better plan might be to think of these as “threads” and  allow MOOC participants to participate in any subset they want. So, for instance, let’s suppose that I am a professor that likes the Psych xMOOC, but at my institution we tend to emphasize cognitive psychology more than the xMOOC does. So I tell my students to participate in the xMOOC, but to ignore exercises in the Reading/Reading Response thread. Instead we’ll do a local track of CogSci focused readings, and do the peer evals in our wrapped portion. Or perhaps we’re using a different textbook or set of primary texts, so the students in my class ignore the textbook thread but use the other threads.

On the backend, the MOOC-runner gives the professors doing the wrapping access to scores and completion records for their section. In a system like Canvas, the section’s total grade will be off because on non-completion of some threads, but the percentages on the threads attempted should be good.

Some problems remain, of course. For instance, if the threads are separable, is a unified final assessment even possible? And how do we assess time commitments of students coming from widely different backgrounds anyway? But by modularizing course content longitudinally, threads provide a way to customize the MOOC experience locally while protecting the course from the sort of fragmentation a more lateral modularization might produce.

Anyway, that’s where we are now —

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