Participating in a MOOC

MOOC participation is yet another intensely scrutinized aspect of this new instructional delivery method. Critics and supporters alike acknowledge the dropout rate could be one way to measure success in a MOOC; however, proponents argue that this measure may not be focusing on relevant data. Alternate methods of measuring interest and success have begun to provide a new perspective on what MOOCs are attempting to accomplish by examining other factors such as what Doug Clow (2013) called the "the funnel of participation" (para. 1). The varying levels of participation in this panel of interviewees helps to provide a rationale as to why dropout rate may not be the only (or best) measure of MOOC success.

What experiences have you had as a MOOC participant?

Pat JamesPat James: Now, I've been teaching online since 2000, so I have a lot of experience with distance education (DE). I taught online, I was the distance education faculty coordinator, I was working at the state level on all kinds of DE committees and the academic senate and also then became the Dean of Distance Learning at the college, so I have a lot of experience with DE, so it [starting a MOOC] was a real natural fit for me. The culture at Mt. San Jacinto College embraces distance education because we had a lot of professional development around it since 2000, so people are open to it. I think having a culture that's open to alternative methodologies is critical when you're dealing with something like this.

I mean, I've heard of people who—and I won't say the college—but someone almost didn't get tenure because they had done a MOOC. At the behest of their college, they did a MOOC, and then their department almost didn't give them tenure because they had done that. Attitudes are still off the rails about this particular methodology, and I think it's going to take a while for things to settle out as to how these are going to be used in education. As a matter of fact, one of the teachers on the course (this is an amazing person) said, "Never once while I was working on this or teaching this course did I feel like my job was in jeopardy."

Interviewer: Wow.

Pat James: There was a lot of fear in the beginning, and I think that fear leads to disparaging comments about a methodology. You know, when we started using the Internet in the 80s, the early 80s, teachers were saying, "This is going to replace me! They're not going to need me anymore!" [Laughs] And as far as I know, no one has ever been replaced by distance education. As a matter of fact, it's been quite the opposite. I think people have jobs because of distance education. I've never heard of a teacher losing their job because of distance education. [Laughs] Most of those people who said that have retired now from teaching. [Laughs]

Denise ComerDenise Comer: Right now what is occupying my thinking about it [the idea of a MOOC] is just really an incredibly enhanced valuing of peer-to-peer interaction and a kind of healthy displacement of me as primary pedagogue in a class. I have carried [that concept] with me into other teaching settings—really thinking about what people can teach each other and what they can learn from these kinds of peer conversations about writing and what I should or shouldn't shoulder responsibility for or try to control or not. You can't control a MOOC [laughs]. So that was hard at first because I am used to feeling, not controlling, but accountable in some way for the way that my classroom functions and what happens to the learning experiences, and that's not possible in a MOOC. And for good reason, too. I have a set of learning objectives for the MOOC, but different learners might be enrolling for very different reasons.

And the learners in the course, they're not traditional learners that enter my classroom, necessarily. Most already had Bachelor's or Master's degrees. Most were professionals. And so it could be that the level of facilitation that's needed in a first-year writing classroom with a traditional cohort of students who don't yet have Bachelor's degrees . . . . That’s one set of feedback where the teacher's role in feedback really does need to be more . . . . Obviously, we have more expertise, and we need to help them develop that expertise. In the MOOC, there were a lot of learners who were already quite equipped to give feedback. And yet some people weren't.

They just didn't seem like students to me [laughs]. In fact, they weren't because "students" sort of implies the corollary "teacher." First of all, I didn't feel like a teacher. I felt like someone who was new to instructional technology and suddenly was out there in the public with this thing, and that was weird. I felt like, in terms of my teacherly role of being more present, I wasn't more present. I didn't feel like a teacher in the same way, so I couldn't have them be students. There were literally teachers who enrolled. I think Cindy Selfe and Kay Halasek use the word "writer," which I love that, too. But they're not students. I feel like they're learners, as I am a learner, and I was enrolled in the course, too.