Although I haven’t written about it in my blog, anyone who has spent time talking with me about MOOCs knows that I’m a skeptic. I’ve been of the opinion that they are more hype than anything else since they first hit the headlines, and those close to me have had to suffer through more rants than they can possibly enjoy. So I couldn’t resist an article with the headline Completion Rates Aren’t the Best Way to Judge MOOCs, Researchers Say which appeared in the Chronicle recently. There are a couple of quotes that I need to mention. First the opening few lines:

When it comes to measuring the success of an education program, the bottom line is often the completion rate. How many students are finishing their studies and walking away with a credential? But that is not the right way to judge massive open online courses, according to researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Course certification rates are misleading and counterproductive indicators of the impact and potential of open online courses,” write the researchers in the first of a series of working papers on MOOCs offered by the two universities.

The snarky part of me enjoys this a great deal, since it sounds a lot like “We’re getting bad results/press using standard metrics, so we’re going to change them.” But taken another way, I think this is a good sign for the evolution of MOOCs and how they are used. A later quote highlights that point:

A MOOC is more of a blank canvas, said Mr. Ho. Some students who register for MOOCs have no intention of completing, and some instructors do not emphasize completion as a priority. Success and failure take many forms. “It’s reaching a completely different set of students, with different intentions, perhaps, and different ways of seeing the instructors and the content of the course,” said Isaac Chuang, a professor of physics, electrical engineering, and computer science at MIT. In future studies, the researchers hope to classify registrants according to their reasons for taking a MOOC, “so we can judge the impact of these courses in terms of what students expected to get out of them,” Mr. Ho said.

Yes, I think it’s very likely that students taking MOOCs (in their current form) have different purposes than students in more traditional online classes or in face-to-face classes. In my mind acknowledging that is a big first step toward moving past the ridiculous assertions that we’ve seen so far about MOOCS and understanding how they can be helpful in education. Maybe there will even come a time when I’ll enjoy a hype-free and productive discussion about MOOCs. I, and even more my friends and family who have had to listen to me rant, look forward to that.

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