edX universities say ‘NO’ to mediocre online learning

How common data standards will lead to better online learning .

Moving Beyond MOOCs

While MOOCs tend to take up all the oxygen in any discussion about online learning, the creation of a common data structure is intended to pave the way for advances in all forms of online learning. As many as 50 courses at MIT, for example, use Residential MITx, an on-campus version of Open edX, which opens up interesting research possibilities for Chuang and his team. “Having this common standard between the big sets of MOOC data and the smaller sets of on-campus MIT student data allows us to connect and compare the two,” he said. A soon-to-be-released paper, for example, will analyze the grades received by students in an edX MOOC on quantum mechanics with those of MIT students who covered the same material on campus.

According to Tingley, Harvard is also moving toward more blended courses, and faculty are looking to the university’s experience with edX MOOCs for pointers.  The shift, says Tingley, “has been tremendously facilitated by both the technical expertise and the educational perceptions that have been developed through the HarvardX domain. The conversations are decidedly more focused now than they would have been otherwise.”

Developing a common data structure represents just the beginning, however. As colleges and universities begin to analyze the incoming data, forums are needed to help disseminate and discuss research findings. Some of this is already happening: The Association for Computing Machinery, for example, holds an annual conference called Learning at Scale, and new periodicals such as the Journal of Learning Analytics cover research into online learning.

Researchers from Harvard and MIT meet every other week in workshops to discuss their findings, too, but Seaton is looking to expand these workshops to include those university partners who just set up their own systems. “I hope to try to something similar to the August conference in the spring, where we get together to understand the movement collaboratively,” he said. “We need to have more people talking about real data—what’s happening at Wellesley, what’s happening at ASU, what’s happening elsewhere. I think it will all happen very fast.”

For now, though, Seaton is ecstatic that all the participating colleges were able to move from raw edX data to a functional dashboard during the course of the conference, and he fully expects the majority to have something up and running on their campuses within a few weeks. Down the road, he envisages a scenario where this kind of technical conference is not even needed to help schools set up their data workflow. Instead, he foresees an automated download and a setup tutorial. “Probably toward the end of this month we’ll think about how to package the materials so that schools can live on their own without a workshop,” said Seaton. “In future, you’ll simply download a virtual machine that installs everything you need, along with tutorial Google Docs that contain a step-by-step process of how to set this up.”