HarvardX and other institutions continue to create new massive open online courses (MOOCs; see the current list at harvardx.harvard.edu/modules-courses). But with hundreds of offerings available on edX, Coursera, and emerging platforms (such as the Business School’s HBX; see harvardmag.com/hbx-14), emphasis is now shifting to research on applications and assessments.
As reported, HarvardX’s review of first-year MOOC enrollments revealed apparently vast online interest in signing up for courses (perhaps reflecting the ease of registration), but rapid attrition (see “Harvard Measures Its MOOCs,” May-June, page 22). A Chronicle of Higher Education review of those data, published in mid June, reiterated the key finding that about half the registrants viewed none of the course content; of those who examined any content, “half looked at 11 percent of the course chapters or less.”
The Chronicle also reemphasized that the Harvard- and MIT-based MOOCs tend to attract students who already have college degrees, rather than earlier-stage learners. This is less a surprise (given the course requirements) than a useful reminder that many introductory, skills, or even remedial courses might issue better from public universities serving a broader student body. That might also hold true for international students in countries with little higher-education infrastructure or access, an intended audience for the online courses. That in turn raises questions about the “massiveness” of many MOOCs emanating from elite institutions.
These broad findings do not mean the first HarvardX courses—deliberately diverse in content, and driven by professors’ desire to experiment with the technology—have no relevance. Nor do they imply that other approaches are pointless.
One promising avenue is the “blended” or “flipped” course, in which content such as recorded lectures is made available to students, like a multimedia textbook, before they meet with teachers in the classroom. Gordon McKay professor of computer science Harry R. Lewis described how he reengineered a course this way, with low-tech recordings costing a tiny fraction of the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in a full-scale HarvardX offering, in “Reinventing the Classroom” (September-October 2012, page 54).
[ Full article available at Harvard Magazine: http://harvardmagazine.com/2014/09/online-evolution ]