#EDCMOOC: Distributed Flips and Blended MOOCs

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted (Thanksgiving holiday and end-of-semester craziness), but I’ve been thinking a lot about comments made during the Week 3 Google Hangout about Blended MOOCs and Distributed Flips. I am calling my experiment a Blended MOOC; Jen referred to work by Mike Caufield and Amy Collier with their term, “Distributed Flip.” They are similar terms — using all or part of a MOOC (or other online resources, since DF is a  broader practice involving resources in addition to MOOCs) in an onground or face-to-face class.

Using the MOOC in this way certainly has some challenges. Caufield outlines a lot of them in this post from his Hapgood blog; I’ve experienced some of them myself.

They include the difficulties of matching up schedules: a MOOC will not always run on the same schedule as an onground class. This is certainly the case, and I was very fortunate to have the EDC MOOC run when it did, coinciding almost exactly with the last five weeks of my own class. My class ends next Wednesday, the same day the Peer reviews are done. The final exam for my class is the following Monday, just in time for a final reflective essay on their MOOC experience. As I said, I am fortunate that it worked out so well. Looking at the lists of Coursera courses, there aren’t many that offered the same experience of timing, as well as relative brevity (five weeks allowed me to teach 10 weeks of my own material, building up to the MOOC experience).

Another issue brought up by Caufield: mismatch of course content. As higher education instructors, we have historically had much control over our own course’s content; bringing in someone else’s content can create challenges. Hamish pints out in the Hangout that textbooks get used often enough without complaint, though I would suggest that even that involves some choice, both in the textbook itself and in the parts of the book that get assigned. A MOOC is a much larger structure within the class, with video lectures (often), readings, discussions, and other materials. Assigning selected chapters of a textbook is easier than assigning selected units of a MOOC. There is too much material integrated into the MOOC units to separate them out. The instructor needs to decide to give up much more control over content when using a MOOC.

Again, I was fortunate with the EDC MOOC. The synching of content wasn’t perfect, but I am teaching a class that allows some flexibility — enough that I could use the MOOC to meet my course objectives. My course is a capstone for our general education program. The first tier of the program teaches skills: writing, quantitative reasoning, languages, technical skills, etc. The second tier involves application of those skills in exploring thematic areas. Think “applying” and “analyzing” in Bloom’s Taxonomy. My course, as a third tier capstone, involves taking all of the knowledge from those first two tiers and using it to explore a particular list of values. In a way, this is the kind of “Evaluating” that takes place in Bloom (along with some “Creating,” in other parts of the course). The EDC MOOC, with its discussion of the role of technology in our past, present, and future lives, fit well with the values discussions, as students were able to look critically at the way technological change affected both their own individual lives and the culture(s) they exist in.

A final challenge mentioned by Caufield: MOOCs rely on Discussions, and students don’t often engage in them when they are involved in a Blended MOOC/Distributed Flip. Caufield and a couple of colleagues asked some instructors who had tried the BM/DF, and found that the median number of Forum visits (not posts, but visits) was two per student. (That matches up with my own experience as a student in MOOCs, apart from this experience as a teacher: Discussion Forums tend to populated by a small but committed group.)

I dealt with this issue in my own class in a simple way: I required them to be part of discussions, and to cut and paste their posts in our class’s CMS so I could see that they had actually done it. They were required to post twice per week, and had the choice to post to an EDC MOOC Discussion Forum, the #EDCMOOC Twitter stream, the (unofficial)  EDCMOOC Facebook page, the Google Plus page attached to the Hangouts, in YouTube comments (tagged), or as part of a blog they wrote themselves. As Caufield notes, the “massive” aspect of a MOOC is a distinguishing feature that makes a MOOC different from other digital resources. I didn’t want the opportunity for my students to discuss issues with people from all over the world to go to waste.

To be honest, I had mixed success with this. Students did meet the requirement, and posted twice each week. But many were simply meeting the requirement, posting something along the lines of “Wow, this video was really strange, but it says a lot about technology and how we use it.”

But many went deeper, especially as the weeks went on. Their thoughts on the videos and readings were more complex; they tried different venues; they joined conversations, and started some of their own; they generally took more chances, acted less intimidated, and used the MOOC the way it was intended. Not all of them, to be sure, but I can say most of them did.

Again, I was lucky in this respect — the EDC MOOC lended itself to discussion. If I was teaching a different type of course, with different subject matter, they may very well have turned to me with questions, rather than asking their MOOCmates in India or Spain.

I have so much more to say about this experience: about the ultimate success of my Blended MOOC experiment; about my role as a teacher; about the kind of “repurposing” that Hamish, Jeremy, and Jen discussed in the Hangout; about my future plans for using Blended MOOCs (I’m staying with that term, with all due respect to Any Collier’s “Distributed Flip”). I plan to address them here soon.

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