Blended learningMOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) typically:

  • Are online courses designed for large-scale participation
  • Include open access via the internet
  • Are free of charge
  • Include recorded traditional lectures
  • Have little student interaction with instructor
  • Allow students to move through material at their own pace
  • Do not provide credit.

MOOCs are seen as a means to enhance curriculum, allow self-paced coursework, personalize the curriculum with individualized educational goals and increase digital literacy. MOOCs are more accessible than traditional enhancements, such as after-school activities, field trips, and museum and university summer camps.

Described as cheap, hip, and tailored for the YouTube generation, "MOOCs are not intended to [replace teachers].” According to Howard Lurie, vice president for external affairs at edX, a MOOC out of Cambridge, Mass., "We are looking to enhance teaching and learning."

Principal Marcy Raymond, from Reynoldsburg (Ohio) City Schools’ eSTEM Academy is quoted in MOOCs Go to K12: Higher Ed Trend Expands to High School: “This will improve the efficiency of the formative instructional practices for our teachers…. [Soon] our teachers will be able to spend more time on the act of instruction while reducing the amount of time needed to formatively assess students.”

How students react to MOOCs

According to The Four Student Archetypes Emerging in MOOCs, students will react to and use MOOCs in several different ways:

  • Lurkers – most of the students who enroll in MOOCs may just observe, watch part of a video, look at a few items, but never become fully immersed in the course.
  • Passive Participants – similar to traditional students, they do most of the required work, but don’t participate in interactive portions like activities or class discussion.
  • Active Participants – These students do the required work and also participate in interactive or social media portions of the course.
  • Drop ins – students who participate on any of the above levels but are not interested in completing the course.

In Get Ready: MOOCs Are Coming to K-12, Tom Murray, director of technology and cyber education at Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, Penn., suggests that “highly motivated students could take stand-alone MOOCs to supplement their course load, perhaps serving as electives….”

How they work

MOOCs: How will they affect your K-12 classroom? provides a basic outline of the MOOC structure:

  • Videos are generally around 10-15 minutes
  • Instructors are predominant (think “college instructor”)
  • There is a high level of requested student feedback (quizzes)
  • There are deadlines for tests and homework
  • Forums and online study groups are included.

Scholastic’s article, MOOC: Will These Four Letters Change K-12?, explains the appeal of MOOCs. “Stylistically, MOOCs borrow from the youth-centric worlds of online gaming and social media. Information is delivered in chunks—snappy, 15-minute presentations, with pauses for students to take quizzes (and receive instant feedback). And—this is the massive part—enrollment is essentially open to anyone who can get online, which means class size can grow into the tens of thousands.”

Seven Things You Should Know about MOOCs II describes MOOCs as an educational delivery method structured similarly to higher education with a syllabus and course content typically consisting of readings, assignments, and lectures. Because MOOCs are free, they should be sustainable; however, designing your own courses may be costly if you invest in any of the more popular courseware creation software.

Designing your own MOOCs

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • Audio­visual equipment to record the course
  • Software and computers to edit the raw footage
  • Training on how to use the technology and adapt the new format to your teaching style.

It’s important to note that teachers won’t generally see students’ performance on test, so they will need to create their own assessments to measure students’ progress.

A helpful training module on incorporating virtual devices for student engagement in MOOCs is available at Digital Tools for the K12 Educator. Each weekly presentation looks at a different method utilizing an emerging technology tool (e.g., presentations, posters, binders, stories, and scavenger hunts). There are introductions to web-based tools like Prezi, Animoto and Glogster. You can also learn about developing a MOOC, by taking the Change MOOC, a 35-week online course which takes you step-by-step through the elements of the course and covers everything from authentic learning to facilitating networked learners.

Some cautions you should keep in mind from Four Lessons We Can Learn from the "Failure" of MOOCs are:

  • Retain the human element--teachers need to continue building relationships with students to truly personalize learning in online environments.
  • Foster focused collaboration--using discussion boards, give students authentic issues and problems to address. In addition, create affinity or project groups or have students self-select for these groups.
  • Provide ongoing feedback--include self, peer, expert or teacher assessments.
  • Blended is best--pair online instruction with face to face, creating a blended environment.

You can assess your readiness for using online courses by taking the Educause Center for Analysis and Research’s E-Learning Maturity Index. The index was formed out of a June 2013 study, “The State of E-Learning in Higher Education: An Eye Toward Growth and Increased Access.” Although it surveyed higher education, it has applicability to K-12 classrooms. You can preview the survey before taking the online interactive version.

Notable MOOCs

MOOCs Go K-12: Higher Ed Trend Expands to High Schools) points to Udacity, edX, and Coursera as the top three MOOCs for education. Udacity, popular for its college instructor led courses, last year offered the High School Challenge, where teams led by high school students competed to complete as many Udacity courses as possible. edX is a nonprofit MOOC partnership between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Coursera, a leading MOOC provider, recently announced it will begin offering free professional development courses for K-12 teachers. Courses will be provided by seven leading schools of education, including the University of California at Irvine (UC Irvine) and Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education, along with several other partners such as leading museums and other educational institutions. While they don’t currently offer K-12 student courses, many secondary students take their college level courses as college prep.

Other notable sites:

Khan Academy – this site is well known among educators interested in blended learning or flipped classrooms. While not considered a MOOC by everyone, this site offers students use of an extensive content library, including interactive challenges, assessments, and videos from any computer with access to the web.

Blended Schools Network - Blended Schools is a non-profit network of schools that has produced hundreds of online interactive lessons and full courses, and thousands of videos which are accessible for free. The network also provides professional development for educators.

eSTEM Academy – from Reynoldsburg (Ohio) City Schools, which has combined MOOCs with live classroom instruction. This MOOC adds the environmental studies to its STEM curriculum for grades 9 through 12, is combining MOOC with live classroom instruction.

Brown University - has a free MOOC for K-12 titled "Exploring Engineering.”

Curriki - touts “free learning resources for the world,” a “nonprofit K-12 global community for teachers, students, and parents to create, share, and find free learning resources that enable true personalized learning” with a new discussion forum that can host multiple discussion threads.

Edmodo- uses a slightly different model of MOOC. Teachers may already be familiar with its free and secure K-12 social learning platform. But Edmodo has a built in system for tracking student progress. All grades and badges assigned or awarded through Edmodo are stored and easily accessible. Teachers can monitor student reactions to quizzes, assignments, and discussion posts.

Kennesaw State University (Georgia) K-12 Blended and Online Learning - The course is designed to introduce K-12 teachers and the community to blended and online learning.

Also worth noting is Codeacademy, whose tagline is “teaching the world to code.” This site offers free courses on all of the popular programming languages (HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, Python and Ruby).

Mooctivity is a cool tool that defines itself as a MOOC catalog and social network, where you can “find the best online courses, rate them, and follow what your friends and other online learners are taking and recommending.”          

For more free K-12 MOOCs, see K-12mooc.org, a “massive open online course repository for global K12 students,” K-12 MOOCs and MOOCs for Teacher Development, A List of 75 MOOCs for Teachers and Students, or MOOCs: Top 10 Sites for Free Education With Elite Universities. For an intensive history and some additional MOOCs, see Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: MOOCs and Anti-MOOCs.

Patricia Bruder, president of Linchpin Solutions LLC, consults for the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) located at the South Jersey Tech Park at Rowan University, Mullica Hill. EIRC is a public agency specializing in education-related programs and services for teachers, parents, schools, communities, and non-profit organizations throughout New Jersey. Learn more about EIRC at www.eirc.org or call 856-582-7000. Contact Patricia Bruder at linchpinsolutions@gmail.com.