you're reading...

Does This MOOC Make My Class Look Big – Part 2


In the fall of 2012, I agreed to teach a Basic Arithmetic course as part of the inaugural Canvas Learning Network. The arithmetic course I would teach was the same one I teach online for my college, Scottsdale Community College, with the exception that students would not be taking our department final exam. Rather, I created a separate exam for them.

The enrollment was capped at 500 and Canvas sent me enrollment reports each month. As the enrollment quickly climbed from 40 to 80 to 150 to 225, I began to panic a bit at the thought of interacting with 500 students. Well before the course began, the max enrollment was reached. With a start date of February 4, 2013, I was able to spend much of winter break prepping the course and getting ready for the onslaught of students.


Prior to the course start, I created a demographics survey that was sent to all the students, as I was very interested in who they were and why they were taking the course. You can see by the slides below that most of those that responded were between 30 and 39 and that most of them had 4-year and even advanced degrees.

Student Demographics-AgeStudent Demographics-Education

As to why they were taking the course, most of the respondents indicated they were interested in reviewing arithmetic content. I distinguished on the survey between LEARNING arithmetic content and REVIEWING arithmetic content.

Screen shot 2013-07-23 at 11.35.41 AM

I was also curious if they planned to complete the entire course or just pick and choose the lessons that they worked on. The slide below shows that most of the respondents indicated they were planning to complete the entire course.

Complete Course?


I am a huge proponent of open resources especially in disciplines such as math and science and I teach all my classes using only OER materials. I wanted my MOOC to be truly open in every sense of the word. The following materials were utilized as part of the class:

  • Basic Arithmetic – Student Workbook
    • This workbook was written by myself and two other faculty members at my college and is published under a Creative Commons, open source license. Along with the workbook, over 150 videos were created to accompany the examples in the text. The materials can be found here:
    • MathAS software


Because of the number of students enrolled in the class, I wanted to streamline all the assignments and make the grading automatic.  The following structure was used for the course and the assignments within it:

  • 12 lessons covering the following topics: Whole Numbers, Fractions, Decimals, Percent, Ratio & Proportion, Geometry, Statistics, and Integers
  • Each lesson was supported by the workbook and included video examples, problems for the students to try on their own within the lesson, additional practice problems at the end of the lesson, and an overall lesson assessment. Solutions to all the problems were made available to the students. Students could decide how much of each lesson they wanted to complete before they took the required online assessment in MathAS.
  • The content students were learning in the workbook was supported by assignments in MathAS (HW, Quiz, Test). As with the paper/pencil work, students could decide how much of the online HW and Quiz they wanted to complete.
  • In order to earn successful course completion, students had to complete each lesson test with a 75% or greater score and an end of course assessment also with a 75% or greater. All of the required assessments were delivered via MathAS.


Initially, I was very worried at the thought of managing communication and interaction with 500 students. I used the Groups feature of Canvas to break the class discussion area into smaller subgroups that could interact with each other and I attempted to minimize contact from students via direct messaging. My hope was that students would form communities within the class and ask questions of each other then I could step in as needed during the course.


As Canvas sent me updates on class enrollment during fall 2012 and early spring 2013, I was very excited to see all the places in the world that students were enrolling from and also very excited to see that the class reached full enrollment early on.

Screen shot 2013-07-23 at 11.38.41 AM

However, the excitement and anticipation of working with a large number of students soon fell victim to what I call the “MOOC effect”; large numbers of students signing up for a free course to just “check it out” and not really participate.  Some of these students were lurkers who only wanted to view the initial course design. Some of them were well intentioned and were planning to complete the course but they just never really got started with it. The reality of my MOOC, and of most MOOCs so far, is that many enrolled students will not complete the course and a huge percentage will not even start.



In my Basic Arithmetic MOOC, which began with 500 students, only 103 officially started the course, 75 created the required MathAS account, and 53 completed the first lesson.

When the statistics for the entire course are included, the completion rates were even lower.

Final Stats

Of the 12 lessons in the course, only 16 students completed all 12 (i.e. took the lesson online assessment) and only 13 completed all of the lessons and the final test. That means 17% of the 75 that created their MathAS account completed the course.

Course Completion


The final numbers are seen in the graphic above. Of those that completed the orientation quiz, 12.6% completed the course. Of those that created their MathAS account, 17.3% completed the course, and of those that completed lesson 1, 24.5% completed the course. Out of the original 500 students enrolled, only 3% completed.


As with any first-time experience, I learned many lessons delivering my first MOOC. I will share two of the major ones here. The first major lesson involved class discussions. In planning for 500 students, I spent quite a bit of time on some design areas that I not only ending up not needing but that actually detracted from the student experience. Because I was concerned about being able to manage discussions with 500 students at once, I created ten separate discussion groups with 50 students each.  The time I invested setting up these groups and group discussions was not necessarily wasted, as I will use that learning if I ever teach a class of something like 10,000. However, for 500 enrolled students, placing them into separate discussion compartments was not necessary.  From an instructional perspective working within Canvas, navigating all these groups to see if and when students had posted was time consuming and the participation numbers were too small for students to benefit from working together. For my second MOOC, which I am currently teaching, all the students discuss in the same area and I have found that the students are interacting with and supporting each other to a much greater extent.

The second lesson involved the length of the class. My first MOOC was 13 weeks long and I found that students did not apply themselves well during this time and many seemed to get distracted and “wander away”. The second offering of Basic Arithmetic is only 6 weeks long. What I am finding now is that students are applying themselves and moving quickly through the material. I feel the shorter timeline puts some pressure on them to keep up with the class and not get behind. Perhaps more will be successful this way.



No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: