Curriculum design in the new MOOC order

MOOC’s are getting a lot of publicity right now as they have the potential to solve some enormous problems facing education right now. A MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) allows thousands of students to take a course simultaneously. The upper limit is more a factor of server size and the robustness of the course software. Students essentially fulfill the role of student and teacher. Each student is responsible for studying, posing questions and responding in a robust manner. Early evidence suggests that a decent percentage of students is able to complete the course with a demonstrable level of mastery.

Yesterday, I somewhat facetiously posed the question “would the new faculty senate be composed of a programmer, a customer service agent, and a fact checker?” This was only somewhat facetious, but it did leave out one important player in this new paradigm: the curriculum designer.  

If MOOC’s are the future, and I somewhat doubt that this is the real new paradigm for reasons I will write more about later, then what should the curriculum look like for new curriculum designers.

  1. Curriculum design must be grounded in the discipline. An effective collegiate lesson design in geometry requires in depth knowledge of “why” a theorem works. This is, perhaps, the most important element. Recent studies are even questioning whether a Master’s Degree in Teaching (with a BA in their discipline) is the best preparation for a teacher in k-12. (I say this as a PhD in Education and a lover of my field). Greater grounding in graduate level coursework in math, physics, or biology will be a pre-requisite to designing those courses in this format. The curriculum may be interacting and engaging without this foundation, but students will be describing how apples fall UP off the tree.
  2. Game design. We are already seeing games being used to solve real world problems. The Foldit gamers are a great example of this. Curriculum designers will need to become proficient in building learning into a game simulations or real world implementations. In the new world where students come pre-wired to their game platforms, interactivity will be the key to engagement. These lessons must be kinetic, visual, and auditory. In other words, fully use all the senses. In such a world, is it possible that Bethesda Softworks or Blizzard Entertainment be the next Harvard?
  3. Relevance and impact. A consistent complaint of many students is “When am I going to use this?” (I must confess that I have yet to compute the sign, cosign, or tangent of an angle at my job).  But imagine an co-sat architecture/commercial design course  where hundreds of small groups use real building codes to build real buildings; criminal justice courses where clues to real unsolved cold case crimes are given to 160,000 students for analysis; an astronomy courses where the 50,000 students locate and assign a threat assessment to asteroids in near earth orbit; or 200,000 environmental science students testing 200,000 different streams of tap water at the same time for simultaneous analysis. In a world of increasing temperatures, food shortages, and energy restrictions, solving real world problems will become everyone’s main role. This generation really understands their role and obligation to the future and they want to be involved.
  4. Assessment techniques. MOOC course designers will need to understand how to do periodic assessment to ensure that each student interaction is optimally effective (with n=160,000, professors (with six-sigma black belts) will arrange experiments on how well students understand a concept when one paragraph is used versus a second similar paragraph). In time, multiple explanations can be stored. Are you a kinetic learner, select explanation “A.” Visual Learners, select explanation “B.” Over time, course designers will choose methods of interaction which deliver incremental increases in retention or comprehension that can never be understood in the one teacher – 30 students paradigm. This work should be continous with multiple tests of content and experience occurring similtaneously.

The MOOC’s may or may not be the wiave fo the future. But they will impact Higher Education forever. We need to utilize them to learn more about the human condition and our role in supporting future generations.


Filed under Education

3 responses to “Curriculum design in the new MOOC order

  1. georgesmerx

    Interesting post! You write, “Early evidence suggests that a decent percentage of students is able to complete the course with a demonstrable level of mastery.” – I would be interested in seeing this evidence, and what assessment obtained it.
    We specialize in e-assessments, and I find that this is still a domain in its infancy in terms of standard and best practices, even though as educators, we all assess our students in one way or the other.
    I also believe that excessive focus on “learning style” is counterproductive: success in the 21st century requires broad proficiency, including learning in different ways.

    • I have a few thoughts. I was initially discussing completion rate as the assessment. While only one small measure, it is my hoe that a Stanford professor would give a final that demonstrates mastery. Need to look more at this. From the press, 25 thousand completers of 165,000 participants. While this is ludicrously low for a brick and motor class, it’s impressive none-the-less.

      I partially agree with you comment about learning styles. I think good instruction and assessment simultaneously involves multiple forms of learning style. This helps ensure engagement and retention. Not a fan of teaching Johnny in a kinetic style and Suzy in a auditory style. Both will get bored soon enough…

  2. inspiredlifecreation

    I suppose this could be a way of promoting university itself. This could be a teaser to let prospective students know the type of teaching style is being offered.Also this might be a way for high school students to prepare for right classes that would lead them to that university. Just a thought.

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