Evaluation and motivation

March 20, 2013 § 3 Comments

How students are evaluated in a MOOC? This question is always raised when we start to talk about Massive Open Online Courses. The concept of providing free open courses is amazing, but MOOCs’ credibility still depends on how students are assessed and will successfully complete the course. And indeed, good courses are not only made by excellent professors, but a team of great scholars also helps the course (and the University) to become prestigious. Elite schools still have their diplomas highly recognized by the labour market and academics. Therefore, institutions encounter a challenge when developing a MOOC: how does the quality of the course can be guaranteed, and at the same time, the institution can provide a diploma for thousands of pupils, who have  a wide range of different ages and backgrounds.

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So far, biological sciences or applied mathematics MOOCs are doing great with quizzes. All students need to do is to apply formulas and come up with one correct result. However, the Humanities have been finding this task more challenging. Good examples for this are the UvA MOOC quizzes. They are great for the purpose of evaluating how well we paid attention to the video and understood the main concept of Communication theories, but aren’t enough when it comes to the comprehension of theories, its examples, flaws etc. This can be seen in many doubts students post in the forum, and it becomes even more important because for the moment we can see our grades, but not our wrong answers. To solve this, some MOOCs are trying peer-to-peer evaluations, where students can assess each other’s work. As it’s impossible for teachers correcting thousands essays themselves, this is a great option so far – although it also might create problems. In the MOOC from University of Edinburg which I participated, I’ve seen some students complaining about harsh corrections, but most didn’t have problems with it, mainly because those who completed the course were highly motivated with the course and the process of evaluating a colleague’s homework.

I believe that the effectiveness of tests, essays or quizzes is essential for MOOCs to keep their motivation levels high. In fact, this not only works with online courses, but regular courses as well. If the feedback is not good, a good student will at least ask the teacher what’s going on. But in a MOOC, most student don’t ask at all. They simply drop the course and increase the high completion rates. However, real motivated students will not leave after the first obstacle. Some of them might even help to improve the course, making worth the concept of “Open”. As UvA MOOC lecturer Rutger de Graaf affirmed right in the beginning of week 4: “that’s what MOOCs are all about”.

Thus, this is why I agree with Sebastian Thrun from Udacity[1]. When it comes to improvements in MOOCs, we have to try all media and technology we have at the moment, such as Google Hangouts, live chats, and social network group: “My aspiration isn’t to reach the 1% of the world that is self-motivating. It’s to reach the other 99%”, says Thrun. When this 99% can be accomplished, then we will have a revolution. I’m very excited to see what’s next.

[1] Waldrop, M. Mitchell. Online learning: Campus 2.O. Nature. 13 March 2012.  

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