As a fairly nascent method of learning, massive open online courses (MOOCs) are still working through a number of growing pains.
Arguably, two of the larger challenges that educators face when adopting MOOCs are fostering interaction between participants and improving the typically low retention rate, which is usually about 5 percent, according to a report by Educause.
A Nebraska–based company is trying to address both issues with an online platform originally built to help encourage engagement during town hall meetings. The platform, called MindMixer, was used during a recently-concluded Coursera MOOC.
“We’re an engagement platform designed for government, education and health entities so they can scale meaningful conversations online,” said Nick Bowden, MindMixer’s chief engagement officer. “From cities, to the federal government, to school districts, to MOOCs, we get people engaged around a set of topics.”
The platform’s founders, Bowden and Nathan Preheim, created MindMixer when they were urban planners. The pair noticed that very few people showed up to town hall meetings and they wanted to take that process, and atmosphere, and put it online where it was quickly accessible.
They soon realized, Bowden said, that the same kind of engagement issues also plagued other types of communities.
“School districts and universities face the same thing,” he said. “They have trouble engaging parents, students and faculty in a useful and quick way. It’s the same with hospitals and patients. This started with government entities but moved pretty quickly to education.”
See Page 2 for how the platform made the leap into MOOCs.
Thirty percent of MindMixer’s users are now using the platform for educational purposes.
When Bowden first began hearing about MOOCs, he said, they seemed like a perfect fit for the platform. This spring, Ohio State University’s Jennifer Evans-Cowley used MindMixer in her Coursera MOOC “TechniCity.”
“TechniCity” is a course that explores how networks, sensors and communication technology are dramatically changing cities across the world. Students work through the lectures and assignments on the Coursera site, but then also access the course’s MindMixer page through OSU’s website.
The page, an easily navigable and colorful list full of bright pink icons, functions much like a forum, but the topics are directly connected to activities and assignments within the MOOC. For example, one assignment required students to submit photographs of important technology used in their cities. They could then share those same images through MindMixer and generate a conversation, comparing and contrasting the different kinds of technology in Washington, D.C., or Shanghai, China.
While the team is still examining how exactly the engagement correlates with the MOOC’s completion rate, Bowden noted that 30 percent of the 21,000 participants were still conversing through MindMixer by the course’s end – a sizable difference to the 5 percent that typically completes a MOOC.
“In my opinion, the ability for some of these MOOC students to be successful is directly related to increasing their ownership of the class’s outcome,” Bowden said. “It’s about having conversations, igniting these serendipitous things that are easy to have in a traditional classroom, but making that happens online.”