Presenting findings from the study of edX’s first MOOC to MITIMCo

By Lori Breslow, Director, TLL

Last week, I was delighted to speak before a group of staff members from the MIT Investment  Management Corporation (MITIMCo).  I had been invited to present the results from TLL’s initial study of “Circuits and Electronics” (6.002x), edX’s first MOOC.  The findings appeared in the online journal Research & Practice in Assessment (RPA) in its special summer 2013 issue on MOOCs.

In the presentation, I described the research we undertook as part of a multidisciplinary, cross-institutional team, including faculty and graduate students from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as well as MIT’s RELATE (Research in Learning, Assessing and Tutoring Effectively) group.  The goal of the research was to make sense of the massive quantities of rich data from 6.002x. This work was funded by a one-year NSF grant.

The MITIMCo staff had a number of interesting questions about the study, many of which are being asked in conversations taking place around MOOCs.  For example, they were curious about a finding concerning the relationship between the use of resources and achievement (defined in our study as earning 60 out of a possible 100 points) by the population of “all students” in comparison to “certificate earners.”   As the graph below shows, while we found that time spent on homework was consistently positively predictive of achievement for both populations, this wasn’t the case for other resources.  For example, as the graph again illustrates, the hours “all students” spent on labs was positively predictive of their achievement but negatively predictive for “certificate earners.”  The MITIMCo staff was as puzzled by this finding as we are.

There was a good deal of discussion about the future of MOOCs, which both pundits and practitioners in higher education are debating.  There were questions about whether MOOCs would eventually replace all higher education with students sitting at home studying for an MIT degree.  In my opinion, this is certainly not the future of higher education.  There are just too many benefits students get from being on a campus with faculty and with each other.  If you look at the predictions for education that were made when both radio and TV were introduced, you’ll see the same worries and fears, and yet decades later, the MIT campus still thrives.