July 21, 2013

We forced students to enroll in a MOOC... and they liked it!

We made a MOOC, and it was all but easy in backstage. This MOOC was integrated in the regular curriculum of Telecom Bretagne students, so we kind of forced students to follow a MOOC. These students were neither volunteers nor MOOC-enthusiasts.

We just got feedbacks (i) from the traditional survey, which is performed by our administration every semester, and (ii) from a specific survey we conducted. Here is a short analysis.

Students enjoyed videos!
Students were unanimously positive for the MOOC although they were unanimously negative for other distant learning experiments, for example watching videos captured during a regular lecture (even with several cameras), or lectures through visioconference. As far as I know, it is the first time that Telecom Bretagne students are positive about a distant learning experiment.

To be honest, we did not expect feedbacks at this level of enthusiasm, especially with regard to the troubles we experienced during the course preparation. Typically, we received suggestions of replacing all regular lectures by MOOC videos. Some students enrolled in another (traditional) course about cellular networks did not attend that course because they preferred attending the MOOC instead. Less passionate but more useful, students were satisfied with the pace and the clarity of videos. They admitted they have worked more than expected overall but they did not especially complain about it. And students who are not French natives said that their level in French was sufficient to watch the video.

Of course, these results have to be validated by another experiment, but they confirm the high level of acceptance for KhanAcademy-like short videos.

Quizz matters, peer-reviewing does not
An MOOC is expected to be something more complex than just a bunch of videos. What we did in this MOOC was nothing spectacular: some quizz after video, a forum, some assignments, and a peer-reviewed system, which allowed students to review the assignments from other students. At the end of the day, how useful are these beyond-videos learning tools?

From our survey, quizz are what matters the most. The main purpose of these quizz is to offer students a way to check whether they were attentive during a video. In short, if you cannot answer the quizz, then you should probably watch the video again. Intuitively, quizz are not magical learning tools. But, think twice about it and recall when you were student. If you were sure the teacher would ask you a question in say five minutes, you would certainly be very focused on the teacher during these five minutes. Now think about a teacher asking you a question every five minutes! Today's quizz are very simple, but this positive feedback may encourage us to enhance quizz.

On the contrary, peer-reviewing has not been appreciated. Students did not find useful to review the assignments from other students, and they found even less useful to receive the reviews about their work from other anonymous students. I am disappointed because I had a lot of hopes in this learning tool, which is the most "connectivist" tool we implemented. Well, we have to work further on it!

It is not easy to take notes while watching videos
When we interviewed (very informally) students, a recurring object of worries was the notes. How to take notes although the videos is played? A video is not a lecture. It is focused and it does not include any time out. Almost any sentence matters and requires a note. Moreover, you cannot only listen, you must watch, at least a bit.

Students suffered from being unable to follow the videos and to take notes simultaneously. Some of them paused the video regularly. Some other played the video twice, one first time to get the global picture and a second one to take selected notes. From our survey, students playing videos more than twice are rare (less than 10%).

This feedback emphasizes that students have to acquire new methods in order to follow such video-based courses. Somehow students who have followed our MOOC got some specific skills, which will be useful if they have to follow other MOOC in their life (which is highly probable). Should we include some courses about how to follow a MOOC in the curriculum?

Multiple experiences are possible
There is not one unique way to follow a MOOC. We got confirmation if you had doubts about it.

We booked some classrooms with computers and headspeakers in the regular schedule. Some students told us they appreciated. They used to attend these "free" hours because it was for them a guarantee to maintain a regular learning pace. Some others of course worked by bursts, watching several hours of videos in one night when they got assignments. Overall, I like this freedom, which calls for unconstrained MOOC schedules.

Finally, a group of students told us they used to watch the video together. I can only imagine beers, chips, a TV screen... and MOOC videos! (debates should be lively for the quizz) This way of experiencing MOOC videos is great since it allows students to discuss the learning material. When we give a lecture in amphitheater, we usually ban in-class chats because we assume most of it is not related to the lecture. But chats among students can be useful. This experience is also opening questions about next-generation campuses: dedicated tiny classrooms equipped with a TV screen are options to consider.


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