The higher education kerfuffle caused by 2013 surveys showing yawning gender gaps in massive open online courses (MOOCs) may have been premature.

women-moocs-educationAn online visualization tool breaking down reams of MOOC data from the edX partnership between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) painted a much more equitable gender split in students taking the experimental courses around the world.

Sergiy Nesterko, a HarvardX research fellow, and MIT postdoctoral research fellow Daniel Seaton created the visual tool that helps researchers better understand the trove of online data stemming from edX’s first batches of MOOCs.

There were, after all, more than 55 million viewings of recorded lectures, problems attempted, web pages read, and forum comments posted in those web-based classes.

MOOC fans step out of the shadows

The results, which were self reported, showed that 36.5 percent of MOOC registrants identified as women. There were more than 772,000 registrants across 193 countries, according to the edX data.

Four in 10 U.S. MOOC students were women, a much higher rate than the one found last June, when the journal Research & Practice in Assessment found that 88 percent of students enrolled in edX’s “Circuits and Electronics” MOOC were men.

The Research & Practice Assessment researchers noted that the finding was somewhat predictable. The low number of women typically involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is a well-known discrepancy and growing concern in academia.

Greece, Armenia, Mongolia, and Georgia were the only countries that saw more than half of registered MOOC students identify as women.


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