MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching

Vol. 9, No. 2, June 2013

Abstracts of Papers in This Issue

Patterns of Engagement in Connectivist MOOCs
Colin Milligan, Allison Littlejohn, and Anoush Margaryan

Connectivist massive open online courses (cMOOCs) represent an important new pedagogical approach ideally suited to the network age. However, little is known about how the learning experience afforded by cMOOCs is suited to learners with different skills, motivations, and dispositions. In this study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 29 participants on the Change11 cMOOC. These accounts were analyzed to determine patterns of engagement and factors affecting engagement in the course. Three distinct types of engagement were recognized – active participation, passive participation, and lurking. In addition, a number of key factors that mediated engagement were identified including confidence, prior experience, and motivation. This study adds to the overall understanding of learning in cMOOCs and provides additional empirical data to a nascent research field. The findings provide an insight into how the learning experience afforded by cMOOCs suits the diverse range of learners that may coexist within a cMOOC. These insights can be used by designers of future cMOOCs to tailor the learning experience to suit the diverse range of learners that may choose to learn in this way.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), connectivist massive open online course (cMOOC), connectivism, lurking, networks, active participation, passive participation


Learner Participation and Engagement in Open Online Courses: Insights from the Peer 2 Peer University
June Ahn, Brian S. Butler, Alisha Alam, Sarah A. Webster

Recent developments in massive open online courses (MOOCs) have brought renewed attention to online learning, but most of the attention has been centered on courses offered through platforms such as Coursera and edX. This paper focuses on the importance of examining alternative, large-scale learning initiatives that promote more participatory modes of education production and delivery. It presents a comprehensive description of the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU), a social computing platform that promotes peer-created, peer-led, online learning environments. Using log data from the P2PU platform, the ecosystem of this learner-generated education platform is described. The descriptive analysis highlights P2PU's growth in terms of the participatory learning environments that have been created – such as online study groups, courses, and challenges – and also describes the participation patterns of P2PU members. This paper provides one of the first empirical descriptions of an emerging open learning platform and illuminates how log data from the platform, particularly in relation to open courses, open badges, and learning tasks embedded in courses, can be used to track development of courses and engagement in learning activities across P2PU. The analyses reported here are aimed at helping researchers understand the P2PU ecosystem and identify potential areas for future study as P2PU works to open its data for public analysis.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), open education, peer-to-peer learning, participatory learning, crowdsourced education


Realigning Higher Education for the 21st Century Learner through Multi-Access Learning
Valerie Irvine, Jillianne Code, and Luke Richards

Twenty-first-century learners have expectations that are not met within the current model of higher education. With the introduction of online learning, the anytime/anywhere mantra taken up by many postsecondary institutions was a first step to meeting learner needs for flexibility; however, the choice and determination of delivery mode still resides with the institution and course instructors. Recently, the massive open online course (MOOC) movement has been introduced as an undeniable force in higher education, and the authors argue that it is distracting leadership from focusing on alternative options for supporting the needs of learners who demand both personalization and real access to learning opportunities. The key element to the MOOC movement is its openness that enables student access to education. In this article, the authors present the multi-access learning framework that envelops the MOOC phenomenon and merges course access modes enabling student choice and agency. The authors report results from a pilot study on one type of multi-access course, where students were able to choose their mode of access. In this case, remote students accessed the course via webcam and joined their on-campus classmates and instructor who were together face-to-face. Implications for multi-access learning in relation to the MOOC movement are discussed.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), hybrid learning, open education, learner agency, learner access, learner choice, multi-access learning


Wrapping a MOOC: Student Perceptions of an Experiment in Blended Learning
Derek O. Bruff, Douglas H. Fisher, Kathryn E. McEwen, and Blaine E. Smith

Although massive open online courses (MOOCs) are seen to be, and are in fact designed to be, stand-alone online courses, their introduction to the higher education landscape has expanded the space of possibilities for blended course designs (those that combine online and face-to-face learning experiences). Instead of replacing courses at higher education institutions, could MOOCs enhance those courses? This paper reports one such exploration, in which a Stanford University Machine Learning MOOC was integrated into a graduate course in machine learning at Vanderbilt University during the Fall 2012 semester. The blended course design, which leveraged a MOOC course and platform for lecturing, grading, and discussion, enabled the Vanderbilt instructor to lead an overload course in a topic much desired by students. The study shows that while students regarded some elements of the course positively, they had concerns about the coupling of online and in-class components of this particular blended course design. Analysis of student and instructor reflections on the course suggests dimensions for characterizing blended course designs that incorporate MOOCs, either in whole or in part. Given the reported challenges in this case study of integrating a MOOC in its entirety in an on-campus course, the paper advocates for more complex forms of blended learning in which course materials are drawn from multiple MOOCs, as well as from other online sources.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), blended learning, online learning, wrapper, flipped classroom, course cohesion, subject coupling, task coupling, local learning communities, global learning communities, course customization


Liminal Participants and Skilled Orienteers: Learner Participation in a MOOC for New Lecturers
Marion Waite, Jenny Mackness, George Roberts, and Elizabeth Lovegrove

This case study explored learner participation in First Steps in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (FSLT12), a short massive open online course (MOOC) aimed at introducing learning and teaching in higher education that was offered by Oxford Brookes University in June 2012. Both novice and experienced MOOC learners joined the course. The aim of the case study was to explore triggers for active participation. A mixed-methods approach was utilized in order to collect and analyze data from focus groups, individual interviews, participant blog posts, and a survey. The lenses of social constructivism, connectivism, and community of practice theories were used to enhance understanding of participation in FSLT12. Three main themes emerged: (1) Navigation: New participants felt overwhelmed by technical issues, multiple channels, and a perceived need to multitask, while experienced learners were judicious about planning their route; (2) Transformative learning: Ultimately, learners experienced a transformative shift, but it required reflection on practice, community support, and self-organization; (3) Reciprocal Relationships: New learners needed time to determine their audience and core community, as well as to realize mutual relationships within that community. Learners in a MOOC inhabit a liminal space. Active MOOC participants are skilled orienteers. Engaging local expertise of experienced MOOC learners and developing participatory skills in new learners is a key strategy for those who organize and facilitate MOOCs.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), connectivist massive open online course (cMOOC), threshold concepts, navigation, liminality, transformative learning, participation, reciprocity


Evaluating the Strategic and Leadership Challenges of MOOCs
Stephen Marshall

This paper presents an analysis of the strategic and leadership issues presented by the range of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and associated activities happening internationally. The analysis is framed by Porter's Five Forces and outlines a framework for use by institutional leaders and strategic planners exploring specific strategic and operational responses relevant to their particular institutional, social, national, and international contexts.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), institutional strategy, Porter's Five Forces, open education


Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation?
Bonnie Stewart

As the narratives that guide higher education fracture and realign, the topic of massive open online courses (MOOCs) makes visible the fault lines emerging in the field of contemporary academia. MOOCs challenge universities' conventional societal role as purveyors of knowledge and credentials: they are heralded by some as revolution, and derided by others as mere privatization. This position paper skirts that binary debate, with the author instead arguing that MOOCs may in the end be something else entirely: a Trojan horse for an ethos of participation and distributed expertise. While recognizing that most MOOCs at this juncture do not share those alignments, the author explores the possibility that digital, participatory literacies could be an unintended consequence of the combination of massiveness and openness. She draws on 2010 research into the early connectivist MOOC model as a means of teaching digital literacies. Focusing on MOOCs from a social communications and learning-focused perspective rather than an instrumental or technologically centered approach, the author suggests that it is the ways in which MOOCs open up questions of goal, purpose, and teacher/student roles that make their massive scale so powerful, and proposes that MOOCs can help acculturate learners to a form of new literacy development for the digital age.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), scale, open education, new literacies, participatory culture


The Inside Story: Campus Decision Making in the Wake of the Latest MOOC Tsunami
Marilyn M. Lombardi

Online courses may be criticized for failing to engage students. Faculty members teaching in the classroom often employ a number of strategies that capture the interest of students, but may find the migration to the online environment a daunting prospect. This paper describes the transitioning of two common strategies to engage students in the classroom – jigsaw groups and problem-based learning – from face-to-face to online courses in sociology and soil science, respectively. The paper discusses the challenges and opportunities that were found to be common to the implementation of both these strategies online, and provides suggestions for faculty considering this transition.

Keywords: online teaching, engaging teaching strategies, sociology, soil science, problem-based learning, jigsaw groups


MOOCs and the Liberal Arts College
Claudia W. Scholz

In this paper, the author examines lessons from massive open online courses (MOOCs) for small liberal arts colleges (LACs) in the United States. While some consider MOOCs a threat to LACs, they can also be seen as a provocation to spur small institutions to improve their offerings and assert their place in the higher education landscape. The paper examines how LACs might draw on the best tools, approaches, and structures emerging from the MOOC revolution in order to help students build lifelong learning habits.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), liberal arts college (LAC), institutional strategy, lifelong learning


Investigating Student Engagement in an Online Mathematics Course through Windows into Teaching and Learning
Teresa Petty and Abiola Farinde

The Windows into Teaching and Learning (WiTL) project is a method developed by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte that allows the facilitation of online clinical experiences for students during their content area methods course. WiTL was developed to address difficulties in securing meaningful clinical placements for interns during online summer coursework. WiTL encompasses both an asynchronous and a synchronous component. Through the use of dialogue, the purpose of WiTL is to engage interns with practicing classroom teachers and with each other as they consider various teaching methodologies and observe these methodologies in practice. The authors describe the WiTL process, its implementation, and ways in which the process has encouraged various levels of student engagement in an online mathematics methods course. The results indicate varying levels of student engagement and suggest that students are more engaged during the asynchronous portion of this study.

Keywords: online content methods courses, student engagement, distance learning, asynchronous online learning, synchronous online learning, online clinical experiences


Blended Learning: An Institutional Approach for Enhancing Students' Learning Experiences
Joanna Poon

Since the mid 1990s, larger student enrollments and more diverse student populations have resulted in a greater emphasis on enhancing student learning experiences in higher education. The approaches used for teaching and learning have been shown to both directly impact and significantly enhance students' learning experiences. Blended learning, which is usually viewed as a combination of face-to-face and online delivery methods, can impact students' perceptions of the learning environment and, subsequently, their study experiences, learning outcomes and ultimate academic achievement. In this paper, the author has reported on a case study on the use of blended learning as a delivery method at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) in the United Kingdom. The author aimed to examine the benefits that blended learning provides to students' learning experiences. The discussion in this paper has focused on lessons learned from academics in developing blended learning, and has reported students' perception of the blended learning environment. The data collected for this study included interviews with academics and responses from students to a questionnaire survey. The research findings formed the basis of recommendations for the development of learning and teaching practices and approaches that will enhance students' learning experiences.

Keywords: blended learning, hybrid learning, institutional approach, student learning experiences


Online Student Support Services: A Case Based on Quality Frameworks
Barbara L. Stewart, Carole E. Goodson, Susan L. Miertschin, Marcella L. Norwood, and Shirley Ezell

Expansion of online teaching and learning has fostered the creation of numerous standards and frameworks to evaluate and promote quality in online instruction and learning. Review of these standards showed that there is consistency in indicators of quality for online programs. One indicator, student support, was selected for study. Quality frameworks were reviewed to determine if student support was included among the indicators. Then, to examine the inclusion of student support services within a real-world context, a case was selected for observation and illustration. Examination of the case showed that faculty and administrators had designed and were delivering critical student support services. Both new and existing support systems were needed and provided. This case indicated a primary need and provisions for student support in the following areas: admissions and registration, advising, orientation, learning support, scholarships and awards, library resources, computing and technology resources, articulation with other institutions, career placement, and communication.

Keywords: student services, online services, distance education services, quality standards, supporting student success


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