Qualitative data via an online survey was collected from 84 undergraduate students recruited from a variety of courses at a large, urban Midwestern university. The majority of participants fell between ages 18-24, 62 percent were women, and 81 percent of participants attended public school prior to attending the current university. The authors explain that this represents a “fairly typical cross section of traditional college students with varied degrees of familiarity with the concept of a MOOC.”

Two research questions were used to guide the authors during their research: 1) What are the common perceptions among college students about the nature of MOOCs; and 2) How do current college students’ perceptions and attitudes toward MOOCs compare with press discussions on MOOCs?

Thematic analysis on the qualitative data (the authors asked students to respond to eight open-ended questions about MOOCs) revealed six primary themes concerning MOOC perceptions: Reliability, accessibility, content, learning, communication, and outcomes.

The authors state that as the themes identified mirror previously published MOOC commentaries, “pedagogical discussion of MOOCs should move beyond polarized evaluations and incorporate student perspectives in further empirical investigation of MOOCs as a learning environment.”

Students may be the most wary

According to the qualitative data, of the students surveyed:

  • 81 percent had some concerns over reliability of MOOCs as a form of instruction. “While much of the information is correct, I wouldn’t use it much past basic facts and dates,” said one student. “I believe they will get the information correct on a man or woman’s date of birth, where they were raised, etc., but all the analysis is strictly a random person’s perspective on history that is not necessarily peer reviewed by an academic on the issue.”
  • 58 percent had thoughts on accessibility of MOOCs, which were mainly positive thanks to the open nature of this mode of learning. “I like the idea that such concepts are making education and knowledge more accessible than ever before. People who do not, for example, have enough money to attend a college or university can now progress their education,” said one student.”
  • 52 percent had more concerns over MOOC content, which largely went hand-in-hand with reliability concerns. “The thing that I like and dislike about MOOCs is the same thing, essentially,” noted one student. “I like the fact that everyone who has even a little bit of information about a topic can share that information with others. You don’t have to be an expert in the field to put your two cents in somewhere. However, that is also a downfall, because when someone is looking for a reliable source of information for a class, these sites won’t be useful. People are so obsessed with them, though, that they try to rationalize using them anyways.”
  • 49 percent had thoughts on MOOCs’ capacity to facilitate learning. Many students had concerns over “instructional quality,” and what the authors say is the lack of guidance from instructors. “I would expect the instructor to be pretty overwhelmed with e-mails and questions from a much larger group of students,” said one student. “I think this would also take away from the instructor’s ability to keep the class on course. They would also need to be able to work with a more diverse group of students and understanding of their potential special needs.” Another student notes that though some students might do well in MOOCs, it all depends “on the student and their learning style. For me, personally, I would rather have the personal relationship with the professor and my classmates; it enhances my learning.”
  • 40 percent had large concerns over the lack of communication options via MOOCs. “[I would expect the instructor] not to perform pre-rehearsed lectures but instead be available to actually help students one-on-one, and to monitor areas where the class as a whole could use improvement and altering the course to match those needs,” said one student.
  • 21 percent revealed that outcomes were also a major concern with MOOCs, specifically around the issue of course credit as the most important criterion to establish the legitimacy of MOOCs. However, some responses were positive, noting that even without course credits, MOOCs could have valuable outcomes. “A MOOC should always provide a learning experience because it allows students to learn accessing different websites, programs, and software, allowing them to have that new experience and be able to apply it to their daily lives, such in future jobs and careers,” said one student.

(Next page: 3 takeaways from the data)

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