A Professor’s MOOC Tale: A View From The Digital Trenches

15 Apr

By Kevin Werbach

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where I’m a professor, is among the world’s oldest, largest, and best business schools, with 11 academic departments, 20 research centers, 230 standing faculty, and an endowment nearing $1 billion. With all those resource, it has produced 92,000 living alumni.

Now consider this: Over the past eight months, in two sessions of a course, I myself taught more than 140,000 people from 150 countries. In other words, I reached more students than all of my colleagues, combined, ever. To be fair, it was one non-credit course, whereas those alumni spent two to four years with us and earned a degree. Nevertheless, I was able to touch so many lives with little more than a webcam and a laptop. Welcome to the world of the massively open online course (MOOC).

If you’re interested in higher education, you’ve probably heard spectacular reports and wild predictions about MOOCs. Pundits, entrepreneurs, university administrators, graduate students, journalists, and politicians have all weighed in on the perils and promise of this new platform for teaching and learning. About the only ones who haven’t written much are the ones in the best position to describe what MOOCs really are: the faculty teaching them.

The first session of my course on gamification, the application of digital game design techniques to business, had some of the highest rates of engagement and completion of any offering on the Coursera MOOC platform. It generated more than 2 million video views and nearly 20,000 forum posts. How could I possibly grade so many students? I couldn’t. So I didn’t. Some assignments were multiple-choice tests that could be machine-graded, and for those involving writing and creativity, students evaluated each other. For these so-called peer assessments, the Coursera system automatically sends each student’s submission to five other randomly selected students. Those students get a grading rubric to score the assignments, and the option to include freeform comments as well. In my first session, a student critiqued another student’s work an astounding 187,000 times.

[ Full article available at The Wired Academic: ]

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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Best Practices


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