Skip to main content

The Study Hall

Why teach a MOOC?

C.S. Lewis said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” Some people feel the same way about online courses, hence, the MOOC was born.

Try something new
Go out on a limb. Try something new.

Working on the front lines of Canvas Network, I’ve learned there are plenty of great reasons to embrace MOOCs. Sometimes I talk with people who’ve thought long and hard about the philosophy behind MOOCs, while others approach it from a carefree "I just want to try it!" perspective. Whatever your mentality, teaching a MOOC is a great experience with lots of practical value. Here are a few reasons to consider teaching a MOOC:

Academic research
Research can be a catalyst for teaching a MOOC. This is a tough area because MOOCs are so new, there are almost limitless avenues to explore. Because the MOOC world has not yet been thoroughly mapped, one road may lead to another, then another, and another, making it difficult to define the parameters of the project.

A conservative, yet reasonable approach is to make a direct comparison between a traditional for-credit course and a MOOC. Use similar (or the same) content, activities, objectives, and outcomes, then compare student engagement, success, retention, etc. For this to work, the traditional course needs to be one that can be replicated in an online environment where participants can complete activities independently. A biology lab probably isn’t going to work, but an exploration of plant species in North America might.

Professional experience
Another approach is using a MOOC as a supplement for a traditional face-to-face course. In this scenario, the instructor sets up a MOOC course web site similar to the on-campus LMS course web site. They open the MOOC site for public enrollment and for regular, for-credit students. The on-campus students then engage in discussions and debate issues presented in the course with people around the world. It extends the classroom for traditional students and opens the course to people who may not otherwise have access to course materials and guided instruction. This type of MOOC may focus more on teaching methods because the instructor may discover ways to improve their technique and increase student engagement through online activities.

Refinement over time
Some instructors want to teach a MOOC many times over with the goal of creating a super-efficient, super-effective learning experience. They find it challenging to test learning theories and instructional design ideas in an iterative and methodical way. Some prefer to start with a course that has a large quantity of materials and resources, then refine by whittling away. Others start small and then add more activities, resources, or technology functions until they’ve achieved a masterpiece. This scenario leverages factors unique to MOOCs because the global audience differs greatly from a campus-based audience, which increases the level of difficulty for the instructor, but may yield an ideal course for 21st-century global learning.

Kid Spaghetti
Sometimes it is better to get hands-on

Learn by doing
A very common purpose for wanting to teach a MOOC is simply that—to teach a MOOC. Educators are inquisitive by nature and their interest in MOOCs is an extension of that curiosity. Everyone in academia is talking about MOOCs. (Seriously, have you been to a conference lately?) Many teachers are excited by the opportunity to incorporate 21st-century skills and technology into their courses, while reinforcing concepts in global learning and preparing students for the global workplace. They want to explore the use of Internet technology that is applicable (and accessible) for a variety of subjects, a variety of learner populations, and is attractive to a variety of instructors.

Leadership decision making
Not every teacher sees value in MOOCs and not every teacher wants to try it, but those at the highest levels of institutional leadership have a responsibility to explore and examine all aspects of education as it relates to their student population, their faculty, and the greater educational community. It’s in their best interest to have some familiarity and experience with online learning and with MOOCs. For these reasons, schools may make a campus-wide, collaborative effort to explore the MOOC-space, identifying faculty to develop and facilitate a few different courses at the same time. This is one way to explore the efficacy of MOOCs in different disciplines, but under similar parameters (school resources and institutional approach) and with consistent governance (project management). Schools can then assess a variety of questions, including:

  • Cost: what resources are required in terms of faculty time, media production, and course development?
  • Expertise: are faculty ready for online learning and is our production ready and able to scale?
  • Impact and outreach: what do MOOCs do for our school?
  • Efficacy: are our online courses as good as our traditional courses?

Schools that approach MOOCs in this way gather data from project management all the way to course completion. What they learn can influence future decisions about online learning and affect faculty support and training, media production practices, and marketing programs to a global audience.

So, give it a shot
I’m sure there are even more reasons to teach a MOOC and many ways to approach the development of a MOOC project. But what we find central among those who teach MOOCs with Canvas Network is a passion for teaching and learning. This is where Canvas Network really stands out as a platform for MOOCs. We have a simple process, with little overhead, leaving you and your institution free to explore open learning. And who knows, massive open online courses just might be your ‘large cup of tea’.

Keep learning,
Carrie Saarinen