MOOCs and GROOCs on the move

McGill’s initial experiment with Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, has been a success and the first offering, Food for Thought, will be repeated next year. More than 32,000 people from 160 countries, with an average age of 35 (a bit younger than normal) signed up for the MOOC. Almost 1,800 people completed all elements of the course, and another 7,000 people completed at least one assignment or test.
Photo: United States Geological Survey and Wikimedia Commons
It is still not too late to sign up for McGill’s natural disasters MOOC. / Photo: United States Geological Survey and Wikimedia Commons

By Doug Sweet

McGill’s initial experiment with Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, has been a success and the first offering, Food for Thought, will be repeated next year.

“I think McGill’s first MOOC went extremely well,” said Chemistry professor David Harpp, who taught the online course with colleagues Joe Schwarz and Ariel Fenster. “Over all, the comments that people are making are really very good and we’re extremely pleased with the result.”

More than 32,000 people from 173 countries, with an average age of 35 (a bit younger than normal) signed up for the MOOC. Almost 1,800 people completed all elements of the course, and another 7,000 people completed at least one assignment or test. This level of participation is a little higher than average, and supports the idea that people are interested in learning for many different reasons. For more information on the success of McGill’s first MOOC, check out the following video.

Before Food for Thought returns in the fall of 2015, other courses are either up and running or soon will be. A MOOC on natural disasters, delivered by Earth and Planetary Science professor John Stix and John Gyakum, Chair of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, launched at the end of May (it’s not too late to register) and renowned Management professor Henry Mintzberg and colleagues will launch McGill’s first GROOC within the next several months. A sports medicine MOOC will begin in January led by Dr. Ian Shrier.

Delivered through an international non-profit consortium called edX, which includes the likes of MIT, Harvard, Cornell, McGill, the University of Toronto and several other leading schools in different countries, edX MOOCs offer the opportunity for literally hundreds of thousands of people to study “at” some of the best universities on the planet on subjects as diverse as computational neuroscience or Walt Whitman’s poetry. Through the Internet. For free.

EdX courses are not for credit. However, if a student completes the program of study with a “grade” of more than 60%, coming from various activities such as quizzes and participation in discussion boards and so on, a certificate of completion may be earned.

McGill’s experiment with MOOCs and GROOCs has been funded by philanthropy, not out of operational funds. One of the most valuable things about MOOCS is the way they teach teachers about more effective ways to teach.

“I think our teaching in the classroom is going to be affected very positively by this experience,” Harpp says in the video. In fact, CHEM 181, the campus course, will be replaced next winter with materials from CHEM 181X, the MOOC. The visual materials prepared for the MOOC are superior to what was available in the campus course, he said, noting there will be an enhanced student TEAM (Tomlinson Engagement Award for Mentoring) group to help the students.

“We’re gaining a lot of knowledge and experience in how to design and produce courses that are going to be delivered in an online environment,” said Laura Winer, Interim Director of Teaching and Learning Services at McGill. There’s more to designing a MOOC, she said, than simply recording lectures from a campus course and putting them up online.

So what’s a GROOC? A Group MOOC or GROOC involves people working and collaborating in groups in order to share their knowledge and experience with others. This results in a more integrated approach to learning and problem solving. According to the Mintzberg GROOC’s website, “this GROOC will expose participants to social learning for social impact, encompassing the following topics: Engaging, Strategizing & Organizing, Designing, Resourcing, Assessing and Scaling – across the stages of start-up, development and proliferation.

“The faculty will comprise top international practitioners and academics who combine the best thinking with the most effective doing. Participants will collaborate on a social initiative through a unique pedagogy that facilitates learning from one another. They will form groups using an online match-making platform that transcends geographic and issue boundaries.”

An offshoot of Mintzberg’s Rebalancing Society initiative, the GROOC is aimed at people who are already working within the social sector to address a social issue and/or advance a social cause, or those who are thinking about contributing to a social initiative. It may also attract people who are concerned about where the world is headed and seeking constructive ways of responding in collaboration with others.

More information about the exact starting date will be available shortly. Interested candidates can pre-register here.



Comments on “MOOCs and GROOCs on the move”

  • Avatar
    David Wees

    Regarding the “success” of McGill’s first MOOC: only 1800 people out of 32,000 completed the course. That’s a success rate of less than 6%! This seems like a lot of ressources (and a lot of fuss) for such a low rate.

  • Avatar
    David Noble Harpp

    With respect to this comment of the use of resources (provided by donations specifically for this adventure) for such a low completion rate I would like to clarify a few things. The completion rates that are commonly cited are very misleading in that they are calculated by dividing the number of certificates obtained by the number of registrants. In fact, the biggest drop off occurs between registration and log-in: of the roughly 26,000 who were enrolled when the course began, only about 12,000 actually logged in. Of those 10,344—more than 80%–were actively involved in the discussions, and completing activities and tests. It is true that only 1,764 (15%) obtained certificates, but since only about half of the people who logged into this MOOC expressed their intention to obtain a certificate, the “completion rate” is closer to 15% than 7%. Focusing on completion rate however is not the best measure of success, since most MOOCs are not really offered for participants to complete the courses with a passing grade but rather to expose a very wide variety of individuals to the subject matter- much like attending a lecture of interest.
    All of the MOOC data I have examined, clearly show that up to 50% of the initial signees do participate at all. I have had numerous persons tell me that while they did not do the assignments/tests, they listened/watched many/most of the lectures, again supporting the idea of exposure to the topic. The average age of the “class” was 34 and the median age not quite 30 and this is also consistent with MOOC data in other courses. These are usually working people who would have had to devote considerable effort to the topic to come home from work and then turn to the MOOC for the evening’s class- and the course lasted 10 weeks.
    We choose to look at this event as a glass half-full rather than half-empty and plan to re-offer this course in the Fall. It turns out that many people signed up late and there were a great many comments made on the discussion board towards the end of the course requesting a re-run. Further, we improved the course that has been offered on Campus for over 30 years and plan to implement the improvements at the next offering in January 2015.

Comments are closed.