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What MOOCs Can Do for the Traditional Online Classroom (Part I)

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It’s been a few years of extreme sentiments around MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). 2012 was proclaimed the year of the MOOC (Pappano, 2012). 2013 was the year that MOOC criticism was the new trendy or “in” thing (Rees, 2013). Perhaps in 2014 we’ll move away from such dichotomies and evaluate what’s working in MOOCs, what’s not; and what we can import into traditional online learning.   A while back I read a post on WCET about redirecting the conversation about MOOCs. One line that really caught my eye, and that has really struck me up to now, was “let’s Learn from MOOCs and recapture the microphone” (Cillay, 2013).  Now, MOOCs are still in an experimental mode, and we will be in this mode for quite some time in my estimation. After all, classes need to run, so that we can collect data, analyze it, come up with hypotheses and test them. Then rinse and repeat until satisfactorily designing and implementing a MOOC that covers your instructional needs.  This is really exciting to me, but I realize that it might not be exciting to others, or worse yet they might feel uncomfortable by the lack of answers at this point in time.

In this this set of articles I’ll just refer to MOOCs in general.  cMOOCs aren’t known by many, and xMOOC as a term seems to be used as a derogatory term (Moe, 2013). Also the two extreme positions don’t necessarily describe the diversity of MOOC setups today. Since MOOCs are experimental, and we’ve seen a lot of experimenting over the last six years (it’s been that long), I think it’s time to start thinking about what can best be adapted from MOOC practices into traditional online learning.  We’ve already seen MOOC materials used as a way to flip the classroom (McGuire, 2013), but I suggest we go further and experience something transformational, not just see MOOCs as another place to find course materials for our courses. When thinking about this topic, there are three different areas: materials, technology, and practices. In part 1 I will be discussing Open Educational Resources as as materials, peer grading as practices and badges for lifelong learning as both technologyand practices.

Open Educational Resources

I know that Open Educational Resources (OER) aren’t something new, and aren’t something that is particularly unique to MOOCs.  The ethos of MOOCs is quite compatible with OERs in that MOOCs Aggregate, Remix, Repurpose and Feed Forward, and OERs work on a Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistributeframework.  While it seems that MOOC LMS systems like coursera, udacity and edx seem to not have that sharing ethos of the original MOOCs, and they have been criticized for this (Wiley, 2013 being one recent example),  it is undeniable that they are producing some really valuable materials that could be used as OER in courses, online, blended and even flipped classrooms. The use case for MOOC created materials for a flipped classroom has actually been tried out by San Jose State University.  That said, if MOOC LMS systems, or consortia like edX, make their materials available as OER, a move I am convinced they should make, then everyone benefits because instructors can have a wealth of additional, high quality, materials that they can incorporate in their courses. For example, in a recent MOOC I participated in, I was able to see short, relevant, video lectures on the relationship of games and education.  A few years ago I had read Jim Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (fantastic book, by the way). If I were designing a course on this topic, along with other materials I would consider what MOOC generated content has to offer. After all, these are experts in their field, and if they haven’t published any materials in paper (or ePaper) form, the only way to get them into your classroom is what they’ve produced for their MOOCs. Not every MOOC has such an open policy on reuse of their materials, but it’s great when MOOC professors, like Steinkuhler & Squire, go the extra step to mention that their materials are free to reuse. Additionally, moving away from just borrowing OER from MOOCs, I would say  that when designing our own traditional online courses  we ought to design our materials in small chunks that can be shared and remixed.  These can then be used by our peers in the same, or other, institutions. In other words, design course materials with the goal of reusing, and sharing with others. This should help both us when we redesign, or tweak, our courses, but also our colleagues.

Badges for Lifelong Learning

It should be noted that not every MOOC is providing badges for life-long learning.  However, there are a number of MOOCs, both within Learning Management Systems like Blackboard’s coursesites, and MOOCs that are cobbling together their own MMS (MOOC Management System) using a variety of Web 2.0 and homegrown tools, that are awarding badges for life-long learning that are compatible with Mozilla’s Open Badges initiative. In addition to a few coursesites MOOCs that have awarded badges, such as the MOOC on Open Badges, we’ve also seen badges on MOOCs like OLDS MOOC, Games MOOC, and BlendKitjust to name a few. All of these MOOCs have taken different approaches to awarding badges, with different criteria and different significations to the awarded badges.  It would be worthwhile to pay attention to actual use-cases of badges in these courses and think about how we can incorporate them in our traditional online learning. If we look at the stated learning objectives for our course, do any of those lend themselves to a badge?  What would a badge signify in the grand scheme of things?  Would it add value?  If it does, why not implement it? 

Looking beyond our course objectives, are there skills that we want to foster, or behaviors that we would like to encourage, but they are not part of our learning objectives?  For example, in the course I teach, the design and instruction of online courses, I let students pick the LMS of their choice to implement their course.  What if students who implemented a course in Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, or Canvas got a “novice Moodler” or “canvas artist” badge to indicate whatever level of proficiency they had demonstrated in using that LMS while they were working on their final course deliverable, which just so happens to be a fully designed and mostly implemented online course.   What if, as an instructor, I value collegiality amongst my students and I want to encourage or recognize people who are generous to their fellow students, who help their fellow students grow as learners and as instructional designers. Such as badge could be useful because such soft skills could be valued by organizations who want team players.  Badges, in this context, are only a couple of years old, and MOOCs certainly pre-date them, but they are something that certain MOOCs seem to have embraced, and they are, I would argue, valuable in our traditional online courses as well.

Peer Grading

MOOCs get a bad reputation when it comes to peer grading as means of learner evaluation. Since in MOOCs it’s not possible for one person (usually the instructor) to meaningfully read, evaluate and provide feedback for massive amounts of written work, most MOOCs seem to go the route of peer reviews. While there may be many out there that won’t touch peer reviews and peer grading with a ten foot pole, peer reviews and peer grading are actually neither new as a tool for learning, nor are they an inappropriate instrument to use in your course.  If you have an instructor, a more knowledgeable other, providing the final evaluation of your learner’s accomplishments the peer grading mechanism is a learning tool you should consider using.  If you create a really good assessment rubric for the assignment, peers can grade each other using the same criteria that the instructor will use.  This accomplishes two things:  First, it provides the learner being reviewed a way to gain insight as to how his work is being perceived by someone who is using the same grading rubric as the instructor. This helps the reviewee receive valuable feedback about their work from peers.  On the other hand, the reviewer gets into the instructor’s mindset.  The reviewer can then, by diving into the different parts of their peer’s work, gain a level of knowledge to allow them to self-assess their own work.  By being a reviewer your learners should be able to also gain an ability to critically reflect on their own work, and thus improve it.  One of the key things here is instructor presence. You can’t just give learners the rubric and have them take on such a big task.  Learners will require both scaffolding in order to get up to speed with the rubric, and also receive post-review feedback in order to see how accurately the evaluated their peers. A small margin of error should be OK, but a large one might point to misunderstanding about the rubric or the assignment. This will have an impact on the reviewer’s own submission and it would be good to rectify any misunderstandings of the assignment before it’s too late.


Since MOOCs are experimental and they give us the opportunity to test new pedagogies, and new technologies, in environments that don’t necessarily jeopardize our existing concepts of credit hour or academic rigor. Thus we find ourselves in a place where we can really take a step back and not only examine our instructional design practices with regard to MOOCs, but we can also see how the results of these experiments in instructional design can benefit other facets of online learning, such as those in traditional online courses. In Part 2 of this article I will discuss what I see the role of MOOC elements such as Easter Eggs, distributed learning and open communities in traditional online courses. Stay tuned!

     Cillay, D. (2013). It’s Time to Redirect the Conversation about MOOCs.
     McGuire, R. (2013). EdX and San Jose State Announce Partnership for MOOCs In Blended Classes.
     Moe, R. (2013). MOOCseums: Using the Open Movement to Invigorate Local Museums. Open Education 2013 Conference.
     Rees, J. (2013). Anti-MOOC is the new Black. Retrieved from:
     Wiley, D. (2013). SJSU, edX, and Getting it Right/Wrong on MOOCs.
     Wikieducator (n.d.). Defining OER.

     CCK11 How To:
     E-learning and Digital Cultures [Coursera / Knox; Saybe; Ross; Sinclair; Macleod / U of Edinburg]:
     Open Badges MOOC:
     Open Badge Initiative:
     Video Games and Learning [Coursera / Steinkuhler & Squire / UW Wisconsin]:
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