Resources & Expectations For Creating A Smarter MOOC


What Are The Essential Resources & Expectations For Creating A Smarter MOOC?

by Justin Marquis, Ph.D.

MOOCs are all the rage.

So much so in fact that even my own ongoing critique of them hasn’t tempered the notion that they might eventually become an important part of reestablishing a culture of intellectualism in the United States. Numerous institutions have started MOOCs, serving hundreds of thousands of students, and covering myriad topics.

They have recently even been deployed for teacher professional development. The format is wide open to innovation and creative uses, mainly by elite academic institutions. However, even with all the hype and hoopla there is a very real possibility that every topic in the academy may not be represented in this free online format.

At their core, MOOCs can speak to the best, altruistic nature of educators by allowing them to share their knowledge freely with the world. Perhaps you are an educator who is intrigued by the possibility of joining the MOOC movement and offering one of your own. This post will redefine the mOOC (micro Open Online Course), present some paths that can be taken to create your own mOOC and suggest some innovative ways of making your mOOC the kind of interactive experience that will set it above all others.

Why mOOC? 
I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on Education Unbound discussing the negative aspects of MOOCs in posts like “MOOCs: The Opium of the Masses,” but a majority of that criticism comes from the “massive” concept that is so central to the MOOC. The idea of free, open access to well-done, interactive online classes is absolutely an appealing and timely idea. If we simply decide to replace the “massive” piece with something a little more personal like “micro,” the model becomes very appealing- the mOOC, if you will.

In looking at mOOCs as micro-courses, designed for small audiences and small, diverse topics, we have the potential for a model that can widely disseminate and broaden our overall intellectual knowledge base. Anyone with something to teach can share that knowledge with a global audience. Regardless of how small that audience is, engaging with others on the topic, has the potential to not only disseminate learning but also to cross-pollinate our own thinking with that of others.

A more diverse world dialogue can spark creativity and innovation and inspire new ways of thinking as well as generate new knowledge. That is why the mOOC model is worth considering for anyone interested in sharing their teaching and learning with others.

How to Make Your Own mOOC (Micro Open Online Course)
In keeping with the idea that MOOCs need not be massive in order to be effective – really that they are potentially more effective the smaller they are – here are two potential ways of hosting your own mOOC that allow sufficient customization and flexibility to make yours highly interactive.

Option 1: Udemy: Udemy is now one of the more popular options for hosting your own free (or for a fee, if you are so inclined) online course with more than 6,000 already in their catalogue. I even have a course, “Intro to eLearning: Online Education Boot Camp,” scheduled to launch later this summer for free. The site is fairly flexible, and provides lots of support and options such as iOS integration and other mobile options. Most importantly, Udemy is open to anyone interested in creating a course.

For those interested in this option, the Udemy site contains detailed information to get you started using the interface and supports you in creating a high-quality class. In addition, their YouTube channel features not only all of their contributed instructor videos, but also valuable information on getting started using the site.

Option 2: iTunesU: Since it was initially opened up to the general public, iTunesU has fallen off the radar as a course management platform and potential MOOC venue. Despite the lack of recognition, iTU provides a robust option for creating and managing a mOOC. In addition to being a pretty well-designed interface, iTunesU also provides a nice mobile version for iPad integration in the classroom.

In the final analysis, Udemy is a better choice for wider dissemination because of the promotional potential of the organization. Apple, in contrast is a more closed environment that will not attract unknown hoards of users. Regardless of which option you choose to host your own mOOC, you will want to put your best foot forward if you expect people to join the class and follow it through to completion. That means creating a well-designed class that is engaging and presents students with an opportunity for rich interactivity with each other and you, the instructor.

How to Plan & Design A mOOC
In any instructional design project, particularly one of the scale of assembling even a modest online course, having a plan and structure is essential to creating a thorough and cohesive finished product. Fortunately there is an acronym used in instructional design that will help you remember the steps in the ID process – A.D.D.I.E.

A – Analyze Your Audience: For a single person creating a course in order to disseminate your knowledge, doing a formal analysis (surveys, focus groups, etc.) is simply out of the question. There are some things that you can do, however, that will help ensure that your course is well received by people who will appreciate it.

  • Define your target audience: You should already know who you are creating your mOOC for, but being able to clearly articulate who those people are and several characteristics about them will help keep you focused on the appropriate level of instruction. For starters be sure you know what level of education your audience should have. A course for college freshmen will be decidedly different than one for graduate students or working professionals.
  • Secondly, you should clearly state the reason that your learners are likely to be interested in the class. Are they likely to want a general overview of the topic, or would mastering specific skills be more important?

D – Design Your Course: This is where the rubber meets the road for your mOOC. A well designed course will help your learners achieve the objectives you specify, while a poorly designed one will lead to failure. Experienced educators already have a handle on this process, at least implicitly, but formalizing it helps assure that you don’t miss anything that will hinder your students’ learning.

  • State learning objectives – These should be clearly articulated statements of what your students will achieve as a result of taking your class. There should be large overarching objectives as well as smaller, intermediate ones that will build to the course goals.
  • Outline course structure – This is the main body of your course. Here you will determine what to teach and in what sequence in order to help students reach the course objectives. You should also decide how content will be delivered – text, video, chat, games, etc. – and what technologies will be used in the course.
  • Design content – Once you have made the decisions regarding what the course content will be and the order in which the instruction will happen, you will need to design the actual course materials. This will consist largely of gathering resources and planning the content in detail.
  • Plan assessment – As with the content, you should plan the assessment activities that will allow you to evaluate the effectiveness of your course by seeing how well your users have learned the content. Each assessment activity should align with one of your learning objectives.

D – Develop Course Materials: The actual creation of course materials will depend largely on what you have chosen to do – videos, text-based resources, screencasts, video games, or some other innovative option. Regardless of what you choose to create for your course, there are free online options available to help you with the production process:

  • Screencasts – Khan Academy has put screencasting on the map as a viable tool for educators who have visual information to share accompanied by voiceover explanation.
  • Game production – Making your own game to deliver content is still a bit ambitious for many educators simply because of the time commitment, however, engaging students in creating their own games can be a valuable tool for synthesizing content.
  • Video production – Because of the ease of use, video has largely become the go-to medium of online teaching. From flipped classrooms to straight video lectures, this popular medium is affordable and easy to produce.
  • ePublishing – There is one way to make sure your course text contains exactly the information you want it to – create your own. Educators can now put together their own rich and often interactive textbooks with free desktop or online options. An online program such as CAST will work at a basic level for everyone, while more advanced users may choose the more robust but the MAC-only iBooks Author.
  • Remixing Tools – Finally, putting all of these together in one place is the final step in developing your course.

I – Implement the Course: Once your course is created you will need to find your first crop of learners and deliver it to them. Udemy provides great support for getting your course out to the public. In iTunesU, you will be a little more on your own. In either case, I recommend that you start small and plan to test the course on a few people who you have easy access to, and who will be willing to give you critical feedback.

E – Evaluate the course outcomes: Part of the evaluation stage is going to be examining the results of student work, tests and quizzes to determine if the instruction was effective. The other part involves obtaining feedback on the course design and delivery, critically reflecting on it, and implementing appropriate revisions to the next iteration of your mOOC. One area to pay particular attention to is making the class as interactive as possible. This is what is going to distinguish your mOOC from all the monstrous MOOCs already online.

Innovative Tactics For Making Your mOOC Great
The problem with big “M” MOOCs is that they lack true interpersonal engagement between the instructor and students. At the most basic level, it is simply impossible for one, three, or even ten instructors to have meaningful interactions with hundreds of thousands of students. The math simply does not add up, and interpersonal interaction and mentoring are some of the most critical elements necessary for student success.

While mentoring relationships will have to develop naturally over time, interactivity is something that can be built into the design of your mOOC to help them flourish. Here are some suggestions for taking your mOOC to the next level of engagement.

Old Fashioned Communication – There is a reason that the most reputable online education programs require some face-to-face interaction between faculty and students. Even if programs don’t require campus visits from students, many require a degree of regular interpersonal interaction. When I taught my first online class way back in the early 2000s I actually used the telephone to connect with each of my students on a weekly basis. While phones certainly still work, technology has progressed to the point where you don’t need to be limited by the medium. Consider using private social media channels as a way to connect with students on a regular basis. This interaction will enhance their engagement, sense of belonging to a community, and belief that you care about them as individuals – all essential for meaningful learning.

Use the Power of Social Media – Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook provide methods of communication that are, by now, fairly ubiquitous to all students lives. They are familiar with these methods of communication and actually expect to have them used in their classes. Not only can you use a medium like Twitter to communicate day-to-day course information with students, you can also use it as a medium for them to express their learning. These Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom will provide some ideas on how to get started.

Peer to Peer – In an online course, particularly one that may expand to serve many users, the instructor cannot always be available, either because of temporal constraints, or simply because there isn’t enough of that one individual to go around. Relying on peer interaction in the class can help relieve some of the burden on instructors to answer every single question that arises and participate in every conversation. Beyond supporting each other regarding the logistics of the course, students can engage in peer-to-peer learning to enhance the educational experience in terms of the actual curricular objectives, if the activities are designed accordingly. This page from the National University of Singapore outlines several strategies for implementing peer-to-peer learning. (Note: resource has been removed.)

These are some of the ways that you can break the MOOC mold to create the kind of highly interactive online environment that will turn your effort into a groundbreaking, innovative, small ‘m,’ mOOC.

Different Expectations
The purpose of mOOCs is smaller, more interactive classes that not only teach something but also provide opportunities for deep, interpersonal interactions that make learning more powerful. So don’t expect hundreds of thousands of users in your course.

In fact don’t even try to make your mini-mOOC MASSIVE. The Internet and digital tools provide the possibility of making many smaller courses, instead of massive, mass-production style ones that turn out hundreds of thousands of identical user experiences.

In the end, we live in a fast-paced innovation oriented world where individualized experience and creative approaches to learning are far more valuable than reverting to an industrial age education model that provides something that looks like education but really is just crumbs for the masses.