MOOCs should be the Holy Grail of student data, but they aren’t there yet
By Rhea Kelly
One of the great promises of massive open online courses, besides making education more accessible for more students, is the treasure trove of student data collected on a grand scale.
Large amounts of data are exactly what higher education needs to stay relevant in this era of disruptive change, as Arizona State University’s Adrian Sannier pointed out in his keynote at last year’s Campus Technology annual conference. The only way to make sure colleges and universities are continually boosting student success, he said, is evidence-based pedagogy. And that requires scale: “You can’t take evidence one class at a time, one person at a time — it takes too long, you don’t get a broad enough sample…. I’m not sure you can do it at a university, at a single institution. You may not have enough scale, you may not have enough size.”
Yet scale can be both a blessing and a curse, as evidenced by the preliminary data analysis (released in late January) from MIT and Harvard’s first year of edX MOOCs. The data sets are massive: 841,687 course registrations from 597,692 unique users, generating about 340 GB of total data. But the conclusions made by the researchers are not nearly as interesting as the conclusions they couldn’t make.
One might easily assume that a large set of MOOC data would reveal patterns in student behavior, and suggest some key indicators to predict student success. Turns out the MOOC universe is not so easy to parse, perhaps due to the large percentage of students who treat MOOCs as Web content to surf rather than courses to complete, pointed out Andrew Ho, associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a lead researcher for the MITx/HarvardX study. As a result, he said, “Everything predicts MOOC performance, because doing anything in this space separates you from the thousands of people who are doing relatively little — thus doing anything predicts doing anything else.” (Read our interview with Ho, “Inside the First-Year Data From MITx and HarvardX,” in our March issue.)
[ Full article available at Campus Technology: http://campustechnology.com/articles/2014/03/04/analytics-at-scale.aspx ]