The Education of a MOOC Dropout

23 Oct

By Justin Reich

In my HarvardX datasets, and in the dataset of most xMOOCs, there is a column called something like “got_certificate.” It’s a binary field in the dataset, and participants have a 0 if they have not earned a certificate and a 1 if they do.

In analyzing MOOCs, one of people’s favorite things to do is count the number of 1s in the got_cert column, as a representation of how many people “completed the course.” Another favorite thing for MOOC pundits to do is divide the sum of the 1s in the got_cert column by the total number of registrants, to get the completion rate, and of course 100 minus the completion rate is the attrition rate. Quite a bit of the conversation about MOOCs is driven by these numbers.

Let me share a story about one of my favorite 0s.

There is a delightful young woman–I’ll call her Jane–in my undergraduate course on education at MIT, and in a recent class session I was sitting in the back doing some small group work with her. My co-instructor Wendy Huang was facilitating a fabulous lesson contrasting instructionist and constructivist approaches to mathematics instruction. Jane and I were in a group were working through some case studies of different teachers applying diverse approaches. Jane brought up that she had taken Jo Boaler’s How to Learn Math course from Stanford this summer, but she had dropped out about 2/3 of the way through as she got too busy with getting ready to head back to campus and other things. So Jane’s a 0.

She then started talking about the case studies of teaching we were reading, and she started bringing up some of the reading and learning she had done about Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets. She started applying some specific ideas from the How to Learn Math Course–thoughtfully, appropriately, and without prompting–to our discussion of these teaching case studies. I then asked her what else she had learned, and she started talking about math talk, strategies for engaging students, and some of the other strategies she had learned months ago. She was hoping to get back around to finishing the rest of the pieces of the course when she had some time.

[ Full article available at Education Week: ]

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Posted by on October 23, 2013 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed


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