Need-to-Know News: The Making of a MOOC, College Scorecard and Syllabus Builder Tool

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series I aim to share noteworthy stories with readers that speak of developments within higher education and K-12 that have potential to influence, challenge and/or transform the traditional model of education.

MP900405500Much interesting news this week in the world of education including two enlightening reports on the making of a MOOC, first, a comprehensive report on a course offered through Coursera, by Duke University, and the other from a professor describing the experience in making the first MOOC for the University of Amsterdam. Another development, the launch of the new College Scorecard from the U.S. Department of Education which is creating much buzz in education communities within the United States. I also include a dynamic tool readers might find helpful, the Syllabus Builder, developed by an instructional designer at Utah State University.

1) The Making of a MOOC
MOOCs are new, they are big, and [potentially] chaotic. The behind-the-scenes work that needs to be done before a MOOC goes ‘live’ includes hundreds of hours of planning and development, technical expertise and… what else?  What is required when developing a xMOOC for thousands, a course that is loosely based on a face-to-face course offered through Coursera or similar platform? We now have something to go on. Duke University published a comprehensive report on the development strategy for the recently completed course Bioelectricity: A Quantatative Approach, and it includes insightful data on student participation patterns, demographics and completion rates. Highlights: development time included over 600 hours [completed in 3 months], of 11,000 students enrolled 72% had a Bachelor’s degree or higher, 313 students earned a certificate, and students created numerous study groups and connections through a variety of social platforms. One caveat, the student data reported, though telling, is based upon a very small sample size.

uvalogoThe second report comes from the University of Amsterdam, the week before the planned start date of its first MOOC, Introduction to Communication Science. One of the creators of the course Arie K. den Boon, shares his experience in a guest blog post on GlobalHigherEd.  den Boon is frank about the experience, initially thinking that creating a MOOC could not be ‘that difficult’, yet he goes on to say, “making a MOOC is like moving a mountain” (den Boon, 2013). After more than eight months of development time, a team that went from two to more than ten, and the search for a platform, the course will open February 20, 2013. The university is looking to join Coursera, but in the meantime is using Sakai as a platform. Registration is open, click here for details.

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2) The College Scorecard from the U.S. Department of Education
The College Scorecard was launched this past Wednesday, and is part of the College Transparency and Affordability Center. First impressions—I think the tool has great potential for students and parents; it provides a snapshot of a college’s cost, graduation rate, loan default rate of graduated students, median borrowing, and soon will include employment data. The website is user-friendly, and visually appealing, making it effective for the user to find and focus on key information.

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Image showing two of the indicators on the Scorecard. This example is for Northwestern University in Illinois

There are numerous criticisms of the tool. One significant one, the number of years used to calculate graduation rate is six years, not four. This has raised many concerns and questions. Is this the ‘new normal’, students requiring six years of study for a four-year degree?  Another criticism coming from a vice president of enrollment at a college in Illinois, “The criteria the scorecards rank colleges on, it dismisses some of the reasons students go to college in the first place, some of the reasons we exist.” I see where this educator is coming from, higher education is not just about getting a job, however as a parent of three, with education costing thousands of dollars this data is valuable and necessary for parents. The employment data will be another useful indicator when that becomes available, though there is already discussion about the validity of the data that will be used for this benchmark.

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3) The Syllabus Builder Tool, Utah State University
This is a user-friendly and helpful for tool for any course instructor wanting to create an accessible and standardized syllabus for an online course. It’s created as an open-source tool by George Joeckel from Utah State University through the Center for Innovative Design & Instruction. What I particularly like about this tool is feature that allows the user to select action verbs when creating objectives for courses, as per Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.  This free tool is available through a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

This four-minute video provides a concise overview of how to use the tool, as well as the link to access the document.

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That is it for this week. Wishing everyone a great weekend.