Humans, the Latest MOOC Feature

02 Sep

By Carl Straumsheim

One of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s most popular massive open online courses is adding a feature not seen in any of its other humanities MOOCs: instructors grading essays.

Learners in Introduction to Philosophy: God, Knowledge and Consciousness, which started on Monday, now have the option to have their essays graded and reviewed by real, flesh-and-blood philosophers — in this first case, one of MIT’s own graduate students. The goal, according to MIT, is twofold: to give learners from all over the world an introduction to basic philosophical topics and — for those who pay $300 for an identity-verified certificate — an opportunity to improve their written argumentation skills and to experiment with new employment opportunities for philosophers.

The philosophy course, now in its third iteration, mirrors the development of MOOCs in general. When it first launched, it featured lecture videos and multiple-choice questions to test learners’ reading comprehension. The second time around, it evolved by adding peer grading, where each learner evaluates a handful of papers written by course mates.

Teaching the MOOC has been a “marvelous experience,” said Caspar Hare, the professor of philosophy who created it. Nearly 90,000 learners signed up during the first two runs. The discussion forums buzzed with debates about religion and free will. Yet Hare said he was left “feeling you could do more” — referring to the lack of writing assignments.

“It’s really central to the way you come to understand the field,” Hare said. “I just don’t think you can get rid of that.”

Essay grading in MOOCs has been a tricky issue for institutions to solve. MOOCs can enroll tens of thousands of learners, which means assigning even a single essay will lead to more content than an instructor and a small army of teaching assistants can read, let alone give meaningful feedback on. EdX, the MOOC platform MIT helped found, has piloted automated essay grading, but the technology is not there yet (not to mention that some instructors, including Hare, are highly skeptical of it).

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on September 2, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



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