How does an academic effectively teach more students in a single online cohort than the total number of students they would teach face to face in their entire career? With an ideal ratio of one tutor to 25 students in an online classroom, how do they establish presence and demonstrate all the qualities we value in a good teacher (empathy, enthusiasm and personalisation)? Whether you are a believer or a sceptic about the value of massive open online courses (MOOCs), it is undeniable that they raise questions for which we cannot easily provide definitive answers.
Years of experience and research in the field of technology-enhanced learning provides us with good practice guidelines on how best to engage learners online and provide personal and authentic experiences. Collaborative constructivist views of learning and teaching tend to be adopted and we know that meaningful engagement in online learning should lead to more than just information exchange, but to debate, knowledge construction and development (Salmon, 2000). However the massiveness of MOOCs means that certain established practices that are known to lead to meaningful engagement are no longer feasible (for example, it is not possible to welcome online learners individually to a course). As such, MOOCs are now challenging notions of quality of experience in online learning delivery as well as the practical advice that is offered on how to achieve it.
What makes MOOCs simultaneously powerful and weak as a learning experience is the large number of learners. They are powerful, because they potentially offer experiences that money cannot buy. For example, the University of Bath’s MOOC on cancer genetics brought together participants from 44 different countries, researchers, medical practitioners, cancer sufferers and carers into a single online space to gain access to up-to-date expertise and world-wide perspectives. However, it also offered an experience which can be deemed weak and impersonal as the teacher-student ratio is nothing like what we value in traditional higher education. Anonymity and large learner numbers are not associated with the personalisation of learning and meaningful student engagement, however this course had some of the highest satisfaction rates, rates which would be the envy of many academics teaching in a traditional setting.
Based on ‘big data’ evidence from the University of Bath’s first two MOOCs, this presentation will highlight the difference of impact that online teaching styles can have and it will also dispel some of what the community knows to be good practice in teaching online courses. It will touch on topics such establishing academic presence in a classroom of thousands, discipline-based versus teaching-based credibility in online courses and providing added value, even within in a free online course. This session will be of interest to those designing, supporting and delivering both large and small scale online programmes, as well as researchers interested in exploring the boundaries of large class teaching.
Salmon, G. (2000). E-moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online. London: Kogan Page.
|Affiliation||Head of e-Learning, University of Bath|
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