Placing MOOCs in the Larger Context of “Innovations” in Education

By Jennifer DeBoer, Postdoctoral Associate for Education Research

The Sorbonne Universités consortium of universities hosted a colloquium on Trends in Innovative Education last week.  I was pleased to present our recent work with data from the edX platform, and I highlighted two major points.

First, I presented the quantitative results from our predictive models, which investigate which student behaviors and background factors are significantly related to achievement.  Our RPA article describes this overall study, and Lori has highlighted some of the key findings here.

Second, I highlighted the complexity of the data that we are dealing with in this new educational context and the need to reconceptualize traditional variables. Having spent the last year and a half wading through this tangled and rich dataset, I am acutely aware of this issue! Our group has demonstrated this challenge in a working paper that you can find here. This study was just accepted for publication, so check back at our publications site or our Twitter feed to see when it’s available online!

More than anything, though, I was struck by the variety of “innovative” educational programs that were represented. I was the only “MOOC presenter.” There were presenters from Ludwig Maximilians Universität’s undergraduate research program, a new maker-oriented master’s program, and the joint Yale-National University of Singapore program. One participant juxtaposed our MOOC research with the other panelist in my session, who presented on videoconferencing for virtual classrooms.  See reaction tweet. You can see all of the presenters here (in French).

This reinforced for me the fact that MOOCs are just one in a suite of tools that administrators, policymakers, researchers, and instructors are investigating to reform and improve college and university teaching and learning.  In the Q&A session after my talk, our discussion returned to this point—what parts of this tool work? for whom? and how can it be added to an instructor’s toolkit to support his or her students?

The National Museum of Natural History, whThe National Museum of Natural History, where the colloquium was heldere the colloquium was held