To Modularize or Not to Modularize: That Is the Question

07 Aug

By John Warner

The MOOC-world word of the week is “modularity.”

We’ve seen it both in an institutional report on the “Future of MIT Education,” as well as an Inside Higher Ed story by Carl Straumsheim about changes the University of Wisconsin is making in its MOOCs.

Early MOOC experiments have (perhaps predictably) demonstrated that porting the design of face-to-face courses to the Internet yields unsatisfactory results, primarily when it comes to course completion. At Wisconsin, only 3.2 percent of people who signed up for their MOOCs made it to the end.

Modularity, then, is an effort to make online offerings more targeted and user-friendly. The example used in the IHE article is taking a 15-week Shakespeare course and chunking it into “modules on his poetry, comedies, tragedies, and historical plays.”

MIT’s report takes their conclusions about modularity a little further, declaring that “The very notion of a ‘class’ may be outdated.”

Last week, my wife and I went on a trip through the Peruvian Amazon on a riverboat, and it has just struck me that the entire expedition was designed as a “class.”

And yet, at the same time it was also modular, each individual excursion building on the last experience, while also preparing us for the next.

As the riverboat navigated the main river, we would venture out in skiffs, exploring smaller tributaries, spotting birds and other wildlife. We’d go out twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the afternoon or evening. At dinner, we’d hear about the agenda for the morning, and at lunch, we’d be informed of the afternoon plans. We were asked to only consider what was right in front of us, but hindsight shows how carefully these individual units were integrated as part of the whole.

An example: what our expedition leader, Renzo Zeppilli[1], called “full jungle attire.”

Full jungle attire means maximum coverage of exposed skin to ward off sun and bugs – long pants tucked into your socks, long-sleeved shirts, hats, bandanas. The guides never used DEET, but I practically bathed in the stuff. For our very first trip on the skiff, Renzo recommended “full jungle attire,” even though in hindsight, a two-hour morning excursion that didn’t spend very much time standing still didn’t require it.

On the last day we would go for a similar outing that had most of us wearing shorts and t-shirts.

Renzo knew that we needed to prepare for outings that were to come, one a walk on land that was exposed because it is the Amazon dry season, and a nighttime skiff trip to look for frogs and caiman, where the bugs were thick and hearty enough to bite through clothing in a couple of spots.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on August 7, 2014 in MOOCs in the News


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