Sunday, December 1, 2013

Honesty, Data, Mooc Mania, and Persistence

MOOC Wheel
from the Chronicle of Higher Education
Graphic by XARISSA HOLDAWAY; illustration by NIGEL HAWTIN
I have mixed feelings about the fate of the Udacity experiment and the glee of many in the I told you so. Let's start with where I am, I am no fan of MOOC's as a "hack" and a solution to all of our Higher Education woes (cost, quality, ROI). I have written in this blog and have spoken publicly on my beliefs that MOOCs (more specifically xMOOCS) crowned as the solution will fail but may hurt public higher education before it fails to deliver.

As the data about Udacity's experiment at San Jose State emerged, Udacity admitted they have failed to achieve the projected results. Consequently they decided to change course and try to work as a workplace initiative. There are great points of discussion here that are worth attending to some actually positive.
The first is that a major corporate player was honest about dismal results, yes it took a while but we seldom see this kind of honesty from corporate or educational leaders. Moreover, they admitted reality with data in hand. We preach data based decision making and here it is.

I think this data will temper MOOC mania for a while and serve higher education as a reasonable argument for caution if not resistance. But something bugs me about it. The main finding was that students need to persist to succeed. In effect students the best predictor of success was the number of assignments handed in. Its actually a lecture my wife who teaches in a community college gives her students often: Not handing assignments is the surest way to fail. The problem is therefore first and foremost a problem of motivation.

Here lies the problem of all MOOCs be it x or c (more on x and c MOOCs here). Persistence is key, but persistence is driven by self efficacy the feeling that you are capable of performing a task which is usually derived based on past success. When the students you use a MOOC with have had little success they have little self efficacy, therefore they do not persist, drop out or just stop handing assignments. This theoretical view is well supported by the SJSU MOOC effort. In effect to break this cycle of low success and self efficacy we need to rewire students by making sure they succeed and interpret their success (attribute) based on their effort and persistence. This can be accomplished most easily with instructors who are sensitive to their students needs provide the right encouragement and the right feedback. To quote Taylor Mali in What Teachers Make:

                          You want to know what I make?

                          I make kids work harder than they ever                               thought they could.
                          I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional                           Medal of Honor
                          and an A-­‐ feel like a slap in the face.
                          How dare you waste my time
                          with anything less than your very best.

So why am I ambivalent? Because if persistence is the most important component in success; where is Udacity's persistence in producing a quality learning experience? 
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