MOOC Research Workshop and Conference

By Lori Breslow, Director, TLL

Last week I attended the MOOC Workshop and Conference at the University of Texas-Arlington.  Organized by George Siemens, who is well known for co-creating one of the first c(connectivist)MOOCs, almost two hundred researchers, instructional designers, faculty, computer scientists, and policy makers talked about the work they’ve been doing and what they’ve learned so far.

During the workshop on the first day, we were asked to discuss the challenges associated with MOOCs—for designers and faculty, researchers and learning scientists, and policy makers and university leaders.  As might be expected, we had little trouble identifying the variety of hurdles we and MOOCs face.  Many of the people in the room had a much longer history in online and distance education than I do, and there certainly was some skepticism about the promises MOOC providers have made.

The second and third days were devoted to panels during which researchers who had received support from the Gates MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) presented their findings.

I was particularly impressed by the research Carolyn Rose is doing at Carnegie-Mellon University on modeling social interaction in MOOCs, and the work of Chris Teplovs and his colleagues at the University of Toronto to examine MOOC participants’ motivations to enroll in a course and their subsequent behavior.  MIT’s Una-May O’Reilly, a research scientist at CSAIL, described the efforts of her group, ALFA (Anyscale Learning for All), to create MOOCdb, a system to organize data from MOOCs, allow researchers to query those data, and visualize the results.  MOOCdb generated a great deal of excitement at the conference.

In all, I felt as if we were like the blind men (and women) trying to describe an elephant—everyone sees different parts of the whole—depending on our own experience and interests. Yet I think it’s fair to say there was some consensus that combining the expertise from online and distance education with the ability to build systems at scale will produce educational resources that will, in fact, have a wide-scale impact on higher ed.