Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Top Five Tips to Making MOOCs Fun

When I first heard about MOOCs, I thought they were the answers to my prayers. I could sign up for fun, interactive MOOCs for little or no money, and take them from home. I was in! What I discovered was mixed—some MOOCs were fun and some not. I began to ask myself the following questions about MOOCs.

  • Are MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) the educational wave of the future – inexpensive and available any time to anyone with a computer?

  • Or, as many students who drop out complain, are they boring, impersonal, and tedious?


But, first, what are MOOCs?

A Definition of MOOCs

MOOCs are online courses involving large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web. Besides traditional course materials like videos, readings and problems, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that build a community for the students and professors. MOOCs are a recent development in distance education.

For a further explanation of MOOCs, check out the video, “What is a MOOC?” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=eW3gMGqcZQc

A Short History of MOOCs

Stanford University offered some of the first MOOCs -- open courses with an enrollment of over 100,000. Several Stanford professors then launched the MOOC provider Coursera, leveraging the technology developed at Stanford to offer live courses. Other Stanford professors founded Udacity, first providing computer courses via MOOCs, and then branching out to other subjects. Harvard and MIT started edX, featuring MOOCs with courses from their universities and UC Berkeley, but recently added courses from Georgetown University and universities in Canada, Australia, Switzerland and the Netherlands. MOOC providers now partner with numerous universities worldwide.

Tips to Making MOOCs Fun

I’ve discovered that MOOCs can be fun. If you are a student, see if you can try out a MOOC before signing up. You’ll know soon enough if a MOOC works for you. If you are creating a MOOC, you can use the following five tips to develop interesting, engaging and personalized MOOCs.

  1. ASSIGN STUDENTS TO PEER GROUPS -- Make the groups small (less than 10 members), and base them on location or similar interests and background. Ask the group members to rate their peers, creating a “Team Rank” score for each team member. The rating system holds students accountable to their peers, creates social pressure to keep their rankings up, and engages the students in the learning experience. Working in a group helps students improve their group learning skills, like virtual team management, negotiating and understanding their role in the team, leadership, and communication.

  2. HAVE THE LECTURER TALK TO STUDENTS AS REAL PEOPLE – Build various video interactions using an interactivity builder. Harbinger Group’s Raptivity has video interactions you can customize using its video turbopack, found at http://www.raptivity.com/elearning-product/raptivity-turbopack/videos-turbopack. Create short (10-minute or less) video segments featuring the lecturer discussing key topics, mixed with slides, live diagrams, practitioner interviews, video clips and thought questions posed to the students. Add discussion forums, social media exchanges, and real time “video office hours” with the lecturer. Throw in elements to make the course seem alive, like a challenge to find a hidden message in the video.

  3. MAKE ADVISERS AND HELP DESK TECHNICIANS AVAILABLE -- Have support available at all times. Students located in different time zones worldwide need a real person to answer questions or troubleshoot a technical issue. Students need to be engaged both through technology and old-fashioned human contact.

  4. MAKE EDUCATION SOCIAL -- Teach students how to approach the content they are being taught, how to synthesize it, and how to express it. Design the MOOC to maximize faculty-student and student-student interaction.

  5. INCLUDE MESSAGE BOARDS -- Encourage students to communicate with the tutor and other students at any time.


With interactivity builders, communication and support, you too can turn MOOCs into interesting, engaging and involving classes for students. Please share any tips you have for developing interactive MOOCs, and tell us about any fun MOOCs you’ve found.