I have been thinking about how to implement MOOCs within blended, or online contexts within a high school environment. The question I have been asking is, what features would a high school MOOC require to make it more suitable for that context. How would it differ from the kinds of University level MOOCs, such as Coursera, EdX, Venture-Lab or Udacity that we have seen spring up over the last year or so?
This week, a Coursera course on The Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application was suspended after one week because of teething problems over the implementation of a smaller group discussion methodology which proved unworkable. This is a huge pity because the notion of running a massive course, about 45 000 people had signed up, and using small group discussion (groups were to be no larger than 20) give a sense of intimacy, was a refreshing and bold innovation. Hopefully the problems will be resolved and a powerful infrastructure added to course design on the coursera platform which will enable this feature.
On my own Moodle platform, one is able to form classes into smaller groups, and this is a very useful feature indeed. I have divided all my Information Technology classes into mentor groups. These groups provide first of all a support group – your mentors are supposed to give you support when you get stuck, but the group is also used for any collaborative work. The screen shot shows an assignment assessment page for a mentor group. As a teacher i can call up each group at a time on the screen – useful for assessing group projects, but also for getting a sense of how each group is doing.
What Moodle cannot yet do is give teeth to the idea of a smaller group unit within a course by providing a group page with links to Chat, Discussion Forums, Skype or Google Hangouts for that group alone. It can be done for a class as a whole, but not for groups within a class. This would be a highly desirable feature. Hint, hint for any developers reading this!
I have found that the mentor group idea provides not only a useful administrative unit within a classroom, but also works fairly well to regularize the informal help that students give each other. By formally recognizing this as valuable, you, as a teacher, can encourage students to help each other out. Some students tend to guard what they have learned as if it were a precious resource to be hoarded, and the mentor group tends to break this attitude down. I further encourage this by letting students peer assess each other’s contribution to the group for group projects.
Ideally, a Mentored MOOC would use students’ knowledge as an integral part of the course structure. The peer assessment module in Moodle (The Workshop) allows teachers to appoint other students to assess work. This is a mountain of work, but it does allow one to use students who have already progressed to a certain point to help mentor and assess those who have not yet mastered a skill. A Mentored MOOC would need to have this mechanism built into its interface.
I believe that mentorship will be the crucial factor in making MOOCs successful within a high school environment. I cannot really see the video, quiz, assignment model of most University MOOCs working with school children. It really needs a format which will allow students’ learning to be scaffolded by fellow students who have already mastered a skill.