Friday, 4 October, 2013

Paper Review: Wrapping a MOOC: Student Perceptions of an Experiment in Blended Learning

Bruff, D. O., Fisher, D. H., McEwen, K. E., & Smith, B. E. (2013). Wrapping a MOOC: Student perceptions of an experiment in blended learning. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2), 187–199.

This paper provides a case study of students’ perceptions of a blended graduate course in machine learning at Vanderbilt University in Fall 2012. This blended course was offered by Prof. Fisher (a co-author of this paper). who "wrapped" his on-campus course around the Machine Learning MOOC offered on the Coursera platform.

Following techniques were used to collect data:
  • Focus group with all 10 students participating
  • University’s standard end-of-course evaluation forms
  • Post-course survey, which was designed to further explore some of the themes that emerged from the focus group
Qualitative data analysis for this study involved the constant comparative method and the development of case studies.Following were key findings:
  • The major advantage of the MOOC over a traditional lecture-based course was its greater flexibility, customization, and accessibility, which students saw as encouraging structured self-paced learning.
  • Students described the face-to-face sessions with Prof. Fisher as helping to keep them on track with the material online.
  • Students did not actively participate in either the Coursera discussion forums or the study groups formed online due to time constraints. Instead, they used the discussion boards to check for course errata or to quickly troubleshoot questions or problems, but tended to ask questions among their local peers.
  • Students suggested more in-class discussion of the material presented in the MOOC.
  • Misalignment between Face-to-Face and Online Components was seen as a major challenge.
  • Students perceived role of Prof. Ng (Faculty for MOOC) as the lead lecturer of the course. On other hand, they perceived Fisher's role in the face-to-face sessions as that of a "facilitator."
Authors have defined the concept of coupling and cohesion of a blended course. Coupling refers to the kinds and extent of dependency between online and in-class components of a hybrid course, whereas cohesion refers to the relatedness of the course content overall. Authors have further defined subject coupling and task coupling. Subject coupling happens when  subject matter is shared across the online and face-to-face components of a course. Task coupling happens when online and face-to-face components contribute to the completion of a task, typically by learning and applying complementary subject content and/or skills. The authors note that the course under discussion had a relatively low degree of coupling by design but to the apparent dissatisfaction of some students.

Authors have identified following opportunities for future work:
  • Possibility to wrap a course around parts of multiple MOOCs
  • How can MOOCs be best designed to best leverage differently designed local learning communities?
  • Possibility for characterizing student and faculty interactions beyond any single MOOC, to include interactions across MOOCs and across media
This is a case study paper that uses qualitative analysis techniques for data analysis. It seems to have made a contribution by defining concept of coupling and cohesion of a blended course and by further relating them to student satisfaction. Its identification of opportunities for future work indicate vast scope for further research in adoption of MOOC in global education ecosystem.

Reflection: This paper discusses one way by which MOOC could be incorporated in mainstream education. It will be interesting to repeat this experiment with larger student participation so that the relationship between coupling/cohesion of blended course with student satisfaction can be critically examined.

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