Facilitating Education Research in the MOOC Space

By Jennifer DeBoer, Postdoctoral Associate for Education Research

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer a plethora of data for instructors, researchers, administrators, and students to support teaching and learning in this new educational context. However, these overwhelming and complex data are not in traditional structures for educational researchers.

Una-May O’Reilly, Principal Research Scientist in CSAIL and leader of the ALFA group, presented her database, visualizer, and analysis structure to better facilitate research on MOOC data in one of OEIT’s xTalks.  One of the challenges and opportunities of MOOCs is that there are multiple platforms and providers. ALFA’s protocol would be “platform agnostic” and would support standardization of these diverse data structures so that researchers could query any of them in the same way.

Next, this standardized database supports scripts for visualizations. O’Reilly showed a sample visualization that juxtaposed edX and Coursera data, completed in a fraction of the time that some of our previous analyses have been done.

This standardization of collection, organization, and assumptions for analysis could give MOOC research as a field a drastic push forward in aggregating findings and synthesizing diverse results.

Finally, she illustrated how quickly a basic analysis could be done, for example, looking at time spent on different resources across different countries. 

A major takeaway from this presentation for me was a point O’Reilly made throughout her talk—this is an interdisciplinary space, and she noted the need to put together a “tiger team.” As I understand it, a tiger team brings together experts with diverse technical knowledge to confront a specific task.  MOOC data, arising from this new, large, and complex educational context, demand such an agile team.

ALFA has already started assembling a tiger team for education data—with TLL! We are excited to be a part of this truly interdisciplinary collaboration, and we look forward to the insights that are possible through a crosspollination of computer scientists, education researchers, and content experts.