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Sharing in a Taxi – MOOCs and OERs




Riding in a taxi from Houston Hobby Airport to the ZaZa hotel, I struck up a conversation with the taxi driver, Jose. We talked about traffic and airport location (easy to get confused in Houston and go to the wrong airport) and then we began discussing schools. Houston is home to many educations of higher learning including: Houston Community College, Texas Southern University, the University of Houston, and Rice University to name a few. Jose also indicated that several online schools, including the University of Phoenix, had set up shop and were doing well in the area.

I asked Jose if he had ever taken an online class and he said yes, that he was going to school for computer science and often took online classes. He had his laptop with him in the car and he used it to study and do homework online while at the airport waiting for fares. In the few minutes left until we reached my hotel, I found out that his tuition cost for a recent class was $500 (3-credit course) and that his textbook was $200. I quickly explained about OER (open educational resources) and the Connexions conference I am attending this week ( I also wrote down on a card the names of the three major MOOC providers: Coursera, Udacity, EdX. These groups often offer classes related to computer science and students can obtain certifications in some classes.

Amazing what can be learned just by a quick conversation in a taxi from the airport to a hotel. I was happy to have the chance to expose Jose to some resources that might help him along his path.


Does This MOOC Make my Class Look Big – Part 4


A new article or site on MOOCs seems to appear almost by the hour so sifting through all the information to find articles worth reading is sometimes a challenge. I recommend the following resources and information sites.

Educause, Massive Open Online Course:

List of currently available MOOCs from Class Central:

Interesting Debate about MOOCs (pro and con). Recommend reading the articles in order:

  • Shirky, C. (2012). Napster, Udacity, and the Academy. Retrieved from

  • Brady, A. (2013). Questioning Clay Shirky. Retrieved from

  • Bustillos, Maria (2013). Venture capital’s massive terrible idea for the future of college.  Retrieved from

  • Shirky, C. (2013). Your massively open offline college is broken.

Bednar, N. (2013). Moocs and community college distance education. Paper prepared for delivery at the 2013 American Political Science Association Teaching and Learning Conference. Electronic copy available:

Carey, K. (2012). Into the future with MOOC’s. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Carr, N. (2012). The crisis in higher education. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved from

Caulfield, M. (2013). Creating the education death star. Retrieved from

Delbanco, A. (2013). MOOCS of hazard. New Republic. Retrieved from

Jenkins, R. (2013). What about community colleges? The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Kolowich, S. (2013). Why some colleges are saying no to MOOC deals, as least for now. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Massive Open Online Course, Wikipedia, 2013:

Martin, F. (2012). Will massive open online courses change how we teach? Communications of the ACM, Vol 55, No. 8, August 2012. Retrieved from

Pappano, L. (2012). The year of the MOOC. The New York Times. 2013, Retrieved from

Rodriguez, C. (2012). MOOCs and the AI-Stanford like Courses: Two successful and distinct course formats for massive open online courses. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-learning. Retrieved from

Waldrop, M. (2013). Online learning: Campus 2.0. Nature. Retrieved from


Full text article

Does This MOOC Make My Class Look Big – Part 3


Community college MOOCs are still the exception rather than the rule yet there are several implementation models and types of courses that are currently being offered. A sampling is listed below:

  • Bunker Hill Community College and Massachusetts Bay Community College
    • Offering a hybrid class that utilizes MOOC content delivered by edX
  • Scottsdale Community College
    • Offering a Basic Arithmetic MOOC through the Canvas Learning Network
  • Broward College
    • Offering College Foundations: Reading, Writing, and Math through the Canvas Learning Network
  • Seattle Center Community College
    • Offering US History 1 and 2
  • Cuyahoga Community College
    • Offering PreAlgebra classes through CourseSites by Blackboard

How MOOCs will play out and best be utilized by community colleges is still open for debate. The following are possible MOOC approaches based upon current and future community college MOOC implementations:

  • Offer MOOCs to current populations of students with content focused on preparation for required courses i.e. preparation for placement testing, college readiness skills, etc.
  • Use MOOC content to supplement and/or provide primary instruction for on-ground, hybrid, or online classes
  • Use MOOCs to deliver pre-college content to current students
  • Utilize a “Try before you buy” approach where a MOOC would present a few weeks of content for a particular class but the actual class would require registration fees through the institution offering the class
  • Use MOOCs to reach out to populations world wide as a marketing tool for online classes offered by the institution
  • Use MOOCs to provide access to high enrollment courses that students may not be able to enroll in due to demand

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.

Does This MOOC Make My Class Look Big – Part 1

MOOC! The very name seems to demand attention and the words behind each letter even more so; MASSIVE OPEN ONLINE COURSE. In this brief four part write-up, you will learn about the early history of MOOCs, their components, a specific MOOC implementation, and thoughts about community colleges and MOOCs.


Let’s begin by exploring the relatively short history of MOOC’s. In 2008, George Siemens of Athabasca University and Stephen Downes of the Canadian National Research Council taught a course titled, “Connectivism and Connected Knowledge”.  Offered through the University of Manitoba as a regular tuition class, it was attended by 25 local students. In addition, 2300 other students participated in the class, free of charge, via the web. The course was taught using a constructivist approach of knowledge building and student interaction. A standard LMS (learning management system) was eschewed in favor of a variety of open web technologies such as wikis, discussion boards, web pages, etc.… The term MOOC, coined by Dave Cormier and Bryan Alexander (Wikipedia, 2013), was a direct result of this class. Several years later, the “Connectivism” class would be used as a classic example of what is called a “cMOOC” or “Constructivist MOOC” as a way to differentiate smaller, open content MOOC’s from the large scale MOOCs that were yet to come.

Not much happened in the MOOC world for a few years. Then, in 2011, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig from Stanford offered an Artificial Intelligence course that enrolled over 160,000 online students.  Offered in conjunction with a tuition course, the open course utilized short weekly video lectures with web based form responses. The instructors created the course just ahead of the students so the content was fresh. Discussion boards had a lot of activity. Assignments were structured with due dates, and a midterm and final were required for course completion (Martin, August, 2012). Thrun’s AI class is often used as the classic example of what is called an “xMOOC”, a term that is used to indicate the more “assembly line” approach that can handle extremely large numbers of students.


One interesting aspect of the term MOOC is that it supports delivery of courses that fall onto the cMOOC side or the xMOOC side of the MOOC spectrum and other option in between. As indicated by Matthieu Plourde, an instructional designer from the University of Delaware, “every letter is negotiable” and new applications of each term may yet be implemented.

Every Letter Is Negotiable

Let’s explore each letter in MOOC beginning with the first letter, M. The word MASSIVE is used in varying contexts as seen just in the two courses above. The first cMOOC enrolled 2300 students and the first xMOOC enrolled 160,000. What does “Massive” really mean? The term is relative to the content and delivery style and support mechanisms in place for the course. For some institutions, even a course of 50 might be massive while others regularly offer classes in the 300 – 500 range so for them 10,000 or 100,000 might be more “massive”.

The next letter, O for OPEN, is often one that is misunderstood. The MOOC movement originally got its start as an offshoot of the OER (Open Educational Resources) movement and the “Connectivism and Connected Knowledge” cMOOC was truly open in every sense of the word; tuition, access, materials, copyright. However, the same cannot be said of many xMOOCs today. Access to the class online may be free (i.e. no tuition), however, some of the classes require the purchase of expensive materials and others charge high fees for certificates of completion. In addition, most xMOOC’s lock their materials under copyright protection inside a management system even though some of those materials may have been created with open copyright initially. Even the idea of open tuition may be “negotiable”. A recent Canvas Network instructor stated in their InstructureCon 2013 presentation that they were thinking of charging a $30 access fee just for students to sign up for the class (Pat McKeague, June 17, 2013).

The second O, which stands for ONLINE, is pretty straightforward. Classes are offered with all material delivered via the web. Students may complete the entire class without ever leaving the comfort of their home and their computer. Taking classes entirely online can be problematic, however, for those seeking certificates of completion.  Identity and cheating concerns are high on the list of those providing certificates for MOOC completion. MOOC providers such as Udacity provide services that limit possibilities of cheating and or identity mismanagement.

The last letter, C, stands for COURSE and indeed, entire “courses” are delivered as part of the MOOC framework. Many of these courses are ones that students might take as part of their college curriculum, however many are not. For example, Broward College offers a College Foundations course to better prepare students for placement testing, Northern Illinois University will soon offer a course called, “Perspectives on Disability”, and Arizona State University is thinking of offering a course focused on life skills and time management.

Martin, F. (2012). Will massive open online courses change how we teach? Communications of the ACM, Vol 55, No. 8, August 2012. Retrieved from

Massive Open Online Course, Wikipedia, 2013: