Thursday, October 25, 2012

What is participation? How the LMS determines what you do

It seems like Rebecca and I were on the same wavelength yesterday when we were composing our blog posts and reflecting on various aspects of MOOCs.  Rebecca wonders why there is only one level of participation in xMOOCs, and I have to say, having started my 3rd coursera MOOC yesterday (same one as Rebecca, the Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society on coursera), I can see that (from my limited experience) there is a limit on how participation is counted.  Granted, I've spoken out about participation in the past for cMOOCs, but I've considered participation as being active somehow (twitter, blogs, discussions, etc.).  In xMOOCs, and in particular my two experiences on Coursera for the Gamification course and  now the Design: Creation of Artifacts course, a participant gets a certificate of completion having done all the quizzes satisfactorily and by completing the assignments.

This is one level of participation, and it's one of the valid ways to get participation out of the course.  I have to say that the Gamification course hit the right spot: I was interested, and I had some free time to devote to it to complete the assignments.  I was also gathering some research data for an upcoming MOOC paper that I am thinking about writing, so that too was a motivating factor.  The design course has an equally engaging faculty member (in my mind anyway) and the assignments aren't bad; but I think I am in a bit of a time crunch, and honestly the assignments don't seem to resonate enough with me (i.e. I feel a bit bored).  I could mechanically finish them so I could get a certificate out of them, but why bother? I may tackle an assignment this weekend just to see if I am motivated, but don't hold your breath.

This brings us back to Rebecca's point, and to student motivation. If the lecture is interesting, and the professor is interesting, but the assessments are not, how does one, in MOOCs and in "established" course formats, deal with the issue of student motivation and working with the student to meet the course objectives, but still demonstrate mastery of the subject in a way that makes sense for those students?

Let me draw attention to another coursera course, the Human Computer Interaction Course that I am also following currently.  This course has 3 levels of participation, not just one!  Here is what the HCI course offers:

Apprentice track
Weekly quizzes (100%). Students who achieve a reasonable fraction of this (~80%) will receive a statement of accomplishment from us, certifying that you successfully completed the apprentice track.

Studio Track
Weekly assignments (culminating in design project) (worth 67%) and quizzes (worth 33%). Students who achieve a reasonable fraction of this (~80%) will receive a statement of accomplishment from us, certifying that you successfully completed the studio track.

Studio Practicum
ONLY available to students who have received an Apprentice/Studio Statement of Accomplishment from a previous offering. Weekly assignments (culminating in design project) (worth 100%). This practicum is designed for students seeking to continue developing their design skills through an additional iteration of assignments. Students who achieve a reasonable fraction of this (~80%) will receive a statement of accomplishment from us, certifying that you successfully completed the studio practicum.

Now, OK, it's not more imaginative, but it's better than just one track! One of the problems that Coursera xMOOCs have is that they all (seem to) follow a standardized design which might work for some courses, but not for others! The design seems to be as follows:

View video --> take quiz (assessment) --> work on assignments (assessment) --> peer review assignments (assessment).  Discussion forum activity, or other forms or assessment or activity have not been though about, and they haven't implemented.  I suppose this makes sense, since Coursera and udacity were created by and with the help of people who teach technical or scientific fields where the mode of operation is lecture, work on paper, work on assignment, robograde (in computer science your program works, or does not) grade paper, more lecture.  This mode works (well, or not well) in fields like computer science, but not in the humanities. The same mode of teaching does not apply, so what do you do when your platform wasn't built with this in mind? This reminds me of Lane's paper on How LMSs impact teaching. The underlying platform was built with certain constraints in mind, and in turn those constraints get imposed into other courses. This isn't good from a course design, or course teaching point of view! Perhaps time for a better or different platform?

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