Online Community-Based Practices for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at Open Universities Australia: A Case Study

Online Community-Based Practices for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at Open Universities Australia: A Case Study

Mandi Axmann (Open Universities, Australia) and Ren Atkins (Open Universities, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9743-0.ch006
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Abstract

Free online offerings or massive open online courses (MOOCs) have caused much controversy in the higher education sector. MOOCs are often criticized for having very low completion rates, not contributing much to the development of higher order thinking skills, and lacking academic rigor. This study aimed to investigate the learning elements which would offer students a sense of connection and deeper understanding of concepts by means of online community-based practices. This chapter reports on the findings from surveying 3,000 students that enrolled in free online offerings at Open2Study. Preliminary findings indicated that the learning elements of interaction and complexity rated highest for student motivation and learner engagement within free online offerings.
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Introduction

Open Universities Australia launched the first of many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) during April 2013. These courses, named as the Open2Study initiative, aimed to provide the following:

  • Instruction from top instructors from leading universities, TAFEs and businesses;

  • Ample choice of high-demand subjects available;

  • High quality videos, simulators, short quizzes, auto-graded assessments and discussion forums to support learner engagement;

  • A variety of tools and methods to support peer connection and collaboration;

  • Flexible online study that fits around the learner’s schedule; and

  • Free subject offerings to the general public.

Currently, the Open2Study free online courses have 145,234 enrolled students from 217 countries across 49 courses, as illustrated by Figure 1. Courses range from Agriculture, Physics, Astronomy, Financial Literacy all the way to Anthropology and Chinese Language and Culture.

Figure 1.

Open2Study community dashboard

Each course comprises four modules with an overall course duration of four weeks. The courses consist of a series of short videos totaling approximately four hours, quizzes related to the video content, a weekly auto-graded assessment, additional resources and readings, and an online discussion forum.

A small team of Online Learning Facilitators posts between four and seven discussion points or questions in each Open2Study course to encourage students to connect with one another and engage in dialogue relevant to the course material. Social media platforms such as Google+, Twitter and Facebook are also utilized by the facilitators to provide students with additional opportunities to work together on weekly challenges and to share resources with one another. Additional connection and collaboration tools provided on the platform include a ‘connect’ feature (similar to the Facebook ‘friend’ feature), direct messaging and synchronous chat functions.

Course grades are calculated from the weekly assessments, with a pass achieved by attaining an average of 60% or above. Students who pass a course are awarded a Certificate of Achievement.

Retention rates are often cited as a concern for MOOCs (Koller, Ng, Do, & Chen, 2013). According to the Ontario Online Learning Portal for Faculty and Instructors, Contact North (2013), a total MOOC enrolment in 2013 is estimated at between 3.6 million and 5 million learners. The average completion rate is usually quoted at being below 10%. However, completion rates do not always reflect learner intent. In an analysis of a business strategy MOOC offered via the Coursera MOOC platform, Gilliani (2013) found that the majority of the most active discussion forum participants achieved an overall course grade below 50%, indicating that many active MOOC students are more interested in connecting with other students and engaging in meaningful dialogue than in meeting the requirements to pass the course.

Initial research analysis reported the average completion rate for Open2Study over the first 4 cohorts for 2013 as 26%, which sets it at a higher completion rate than the average. Case study research excels at bringing us to an understanding of a complex issue or object, and may provide contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions and their relationship (Zikmund, 2003). This study investigates which learning elements may offer students a sense of belonging to and real connection with and within a group. It also sets out to discover how students would find meaning and deepen their understanding of concepts through well designed online community activities.

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