MOOCs, or massive open online courses, have been alternately heralded as the future of online education and a flop. Although MOOCs promise education for the masses, they often have mass desertions after the first week and are lucky to have 10 percent completion rates. Research is showing that the courses just aren’t engaging enough to keep the students around.
To gain that engagement, students need hands-on, interesting projects, which take personalized grading and feedback, and they need meaningful interactions with their instructors and peers. None of that scales well when you go massive, but that doesn’t necessarily spell the end for massive online courses.
Students at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Utah are currently engaged in a collaborative online class, Social Media Journalism, which combines the convenience of a MOOC with the engagement of a medium-sized lecture — and the completion rate is more than 95 percent. The engagement scales, too: students at both schools, 1,300 miles apart, are taking the class together, interacting with each other, viewing the same lesson modules and building a news aggregation service on various social media platforms. The difference is they get a personal instructor and smaller groups of familiar classmates. Our next step is to add more campuses and make this a new kind of MOOC — a network of schools working together with the same material but with individual instructors.