Compilation of case studies that describe use of MOOCs as part of blended learning provides insights into new potential for massive online courses.

blendedThe verdict may still be out on the effectiveness of MOOCs on their own to improve learning outcomes and bring value to an institution, but could MOOCs have a more definitive positive impact in a blended or hybrid model; specifically, as incorporated in traditional, face-to-face courses?

To try and help answer this question, Maria Joseph Israel, School of Education, University of San Francisco, reviewed five recent college and university experiments that used MOOCs in a blended format in traditional classroom settings, and synthesized the findings into challenges and opportunities presented by this MOOC integration.

“Of late, a growing number of researchers, teachers, colleges, and universities have begun to report integrating MOOCs in a traditional classroom setting to support face-to-face learning experiences in a blended format,” writes Israel. “Understanding its intricacies can promote further research as well as assist improving the design of future MOOCs, and inform useful strategies for similar implementation by others.”

The case studies chosen by Israel vary in student size from a small 10 to hundreds of students, number of courses adopted from a single course to a maximum of 17 courses, duration of experiment from a single semester to multiple semesters spread over two academic years, and adoption methods from a supplementary text to a fully integrated course in traditional classrooms.

Israel states that not only can the models be divided into two categories: Single MOOC adoption and multiple MOOCs adoption, but each of these categories can be further divided into models adopting ‘live’ or archived MOOCs as replacement for traditional in-campus courses and models adopting MOOCs as supplementary texts.

The cases highlighted multiple emerging models, such as:

  • Synchronizing an entire MOOC with in-class courses as done by Patti Ordonez-Rozo at University of Puerto Rico Rio Perdras using Stanford’s introduction to databases (Caulfield et al., 2014)
  • Using select modules of MOOCs while supplementing with additional reading materials as implemented by Bruff et al. (2014) research team
  • Adopting MOOCS without the assessments provided by MOOCs as conducted in University System of Maryland by Griffiths et al. (2014) research team
  • Integrating augmented online learning environment for courses offered at San Jose State University by Firmin et al. (2014) research team
  • Allowing students to take any archived or ‘live’ MOOCs related to subject taught in traditional classroom by Holotescu et al.(2014) research team
  • Combining multiple MOOCs run in different universities or in MOOC providers’ platforms as suggested by Bruff et al. (2014) and Caulfield et al. (2014).

(Next page: 3 findings; challenges and recommendations)

According to Israel, most of the research studies reviewed claimed that the impact of incorporating MOOCs in traditional classroom settings was almost equal, or slightly better than, face-to-face teaching environments, which she says is consistent with other large-scale studies combining online and face-to-face courses.

Also, students in many of the case studies gained strong critical thinking skills, specifically in the ability to distinguish between opinions and augmentations, and improved skills in analytical critiquing.

In terms of demographics, none of the studies revealed significant evidence of negative effects for any subgroups; for example, academically at-risk students faring worse in entirely online learning.

Israel notes that in all of the reviewed case studies, researchers affirmed lower levels of student satisfaction in hybrid learning, and other related issues of limited student participation in the MOOCs’ global community discussion forums and of MOOCs being used as open education resources rather than MOOCs. “The reason for [using MOOCs as OER] may be the belief that MOOCs did not test adequately on particular skills and knowledge required for the local programs on college and universities’ campuses,” writes Israel.

Also, in all cases, students expressed lower satisfaction with their experience in the online part of learning due to less time with face-to-face personal interaction with instructors.

However, Israel highlights that in all cases students heavily used interactive materials like video lectures and quizzes provided within MOOCs.

Moving Forward

According to Israel, the case studies emphasize “substantial promise” for MOOCs as a blended learning component in two ways: as learning resources; and by providing students with two facilitators (one in-class instructor and one online instructor), which can expose students to different ways of teaching content and enrich understanding. They can also “enable instructors to redesign classes without creating online content from scratch, or even replacing textbooks with more engaging content from MOOCs.”

But these opportunities don’t negate the challenges. For example, some instructors noted lack of cohesion by incorporating a MOOC, or difficulty in relating the MOOC to the course content overall. This lack of cohesion requires huge amounts of motivation and time commitments from in-class instructors to re-design either the class or MOOC structure for effective use.

Also, Israel notes that intellectual property rights of MOOC content should be taken into account, as many MOOC providers restrict their use in other environments.

Another challenge is how to assess students’ distributed activities in different MOOCs and integrate it within on-campus assessment and evaluation policies.

“On the front of technology integration, it can be a herculean task,” writes Israel. “Most of the reviewed research studies affirmed that technology integration was a major concern as the MOOCs could not be embedded into local [LMS’].”

To most effectively use MOOCs in traditional classrooms, Israel (with the support of multiple cited research reports) recommends that MOOC providers make their courseware more modular and must consider intellectual property and licensing implications of making their content available for different contexts. “They must also make tools and content easier to implement and repurpose, and provide assurance of online content availability for use in the future,” she says.

MOOC providers should also ensure that MOOC discussion forums become meaningful to students by experimenting with three design models suggested by Michael Caulfield, director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University: 1) Connectivist MOOCs that focus more on the community participants’ lives and work together with course content rather than strictly course content; 2) loosely-coupled cross-institutional courses in which related courses run simultaneously at multiple institutions and are connected by an online community of students and faculty; 3) form a network with communities or organizations that will provide students opportunities to engage in real, authentic collaborative works, and projects.

Finally, Israel recommends that institutions that adopt MOOCs have overarching strategic frameworks for course redesigns and implementations to have significant impacts on enhancing student’s outcomes and reducing costs. “They must provide leadership, infrastructure, support and incentives to help faculty to engage with MOOC and other online learning technologies,” she emphasizes. “They must explore opportunities for blended MOOCs research on how factors like early support, high degree of structured content and assignments, and use of learning analytics help to guide early interventions to improve engagement, persistence, and outcomes of students.”

For future studies, she advises researchers to not only focus on student motivation and perseverance—two factors that play important roles in completing both in-class and online activities but were not included in these case studies in their relation to learning outcomes—but also conduct research on larger scales to augment more data to form consensus on the success of embedding MOOCs in undergrad classrooms.

For much more detailed information, included specific data collected, methodology and in-depth case study reviews, read “Effectiveness of Integrating MOOCs in Traditional Classrooms for Undergraduate Students.

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