Use MOOCs to Find What You’re Passionate About – Part 2 of Q&A with UW-La Crosse
Earlier this week we ran the first half of an interview with the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who are using MOOCs to deliver a developmental math curriculum. We learned how their pilot online course is moving students out of the remedial math trap and into college algebra classes, and we heard how, with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they are building on that to offer the course in MOOC form to individuals and high-school classes around the world.
I talked with three members of the leadership team: Professor Bob Hoar, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Professor of Mathematics; Professor Jennifer Kosiak, School of Education, and STEP Program Coordinator, Mathematics Department; and Maggie Lee McHugh, Murphy Learning Center Director, Associate Lecturer of Mathematics.
The ins-and-outs of how the course got built are fascinating, but in the remainder of the interview we turn our attention to what students actually experience and to their advice for MOOC students.
If a student needs a lot of support does the MOOC environment work well for them?
We actually put one-on-one or personal interactions into our MOOC. We had many of our math education students involved, as well as tutors based at UW-Milwaukee, to provide online office hours. We also had live lectures that Maggie conducted so that students who wanted to ask questions could. In each one of our learning objects there’s a button where students can actually click and type in their question or respond to that learning objective.
It was a little bit different in that we did try to develop that one-on-one interaction. As a math teacher I know how critical that is to support them when they need it the most.
Bob is always one to say, “No two MOOCs are alike.” You can’t say our model is the model. As we’ve been giving presentations, people look to it as a model, but you have to find the path that works for you and for the content.
To piggy back off Jennifer on the support, something we didn’t expect to happen but that happened rather quickly was high school classroom teachers who found out about this ended up signing up their whole class — seniors who are in a class for college readiness or who are taking a math class.
We had classes in Kentucky and Portland, Oregon and several throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota where teachers would have anywhere from four to 20 or 25 students working in the MOOC while the teacher is doing the face to face support, acting more like a coach or a mentor or a facilitator, helping students when they get stuck. The MOOC is the main curriculum.
There’s a San Jose State University electrical engineering professor doing something similar with edX MOOCs. He has his class of 80 students use the material from MIT’s MOOC on the same topic and then uses the lecture hall for more small group work and coaching.
Yes, that flipped model. I’ve been contacting high school teachers, and one just responded with a really positive success story about a special education student who was not doing well on our assessment and she was able to pull him aside, really talk with him, figure out where the disconnect was happening. It was a little one-on-one attention after that initial failure in some of the quizzes. He’s actually been able to get 100% on every quiz and it just took time to sit down, to talk through the material and to find out how he wants to process it. That’s something she probably needed to do but can’t if she’s lecturing to a class of 25 students.
What would you tell students reading this about how they will experience things differently in a MOOC versus a traditional classroom. What are some strategies you’re noticing that students deploy that work and that don’t work?
When we converted the material, we really followed what students normally see in a mathematics classroom, but the video chalk talks mean they can forward or rewind the video. They can work with several examples that build on one another in a particular module, so it wasn’t like they were jumping around. Each day had almost its own chapter they would work through to understand the material.
They would be doing some online forums where they get instantaneous feedback. They go through what we call self-checks, or quizzes, where they could test their understanding. So it’s trying to build on what they already know about mathematics.
I would add that students broadly need to decide what is their goal and have that in mind. I think in the future maybe we can have a discussion about “What is your goal in taking this?” So if their goal is, “I’m going to put two hours of work into this every night because in seven weeks I have the ACT,” then they know what they have to do to work towards that goal.
The pacing was something else unique about ours. I paced it out for seven weeks, but teachers and other people who are taking it on the side are pacing it differently and only doing it for some of those weeks. So they maybe they don’t share that same goal.
How did the participants find out about you if you weren’t on one of the major platforms?
When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced we were receiving the grant, it spread the news around the globe. Once that got out we were contacted by bloggers and other individuals who wanted hear more about it, and that kept the buzz going. We had participants from over forty countries and every state in the U.S. It was almost all social media.
If you were going to go out this summer and find a MOOC for yourself on some subject you aren’t expert in, what would you be looking for? How would you discriminate between good and bad ones?
That’s a little tricky. I think I’d have to get in and poke around a little bit. It’s hard to judge a book by its cover, and in a MOOC, it’s hard to tell what the experience is going to be like until you’re actually experiencing it. I would look for something that has built into it enough support to help me navigate through it. You have to be in it before you realize whether or not it’s what you want.
One thing I would encourage people to do is think back to when you took high school math class and the amount of time you spent in class. That’s what you should expect to set aside. It would be frustrating if you looked into it and you didn’t have the time you needed to succeed.
You’ve shown success by the number of people passing exams, but I’m wondering if you’re hearing about how people use their MOOC experience in other ways, whether it’s helping them get jobs or make a shift in their careers in some way.
I did hear of one student was studying for the Praxis exam, which you need to take in order to get into an education studies program, and they said the MOOC helped them pass the math portion.
What happens next with MathMOOC?
This spring is our first offering in the MOOC format. We ran it in the spring with the hope students could do well on that placement exam, or for sophomores and juniors, it could actually be pre-emptive.
We’ve had close to 300 people say they were interested in a future offering. We are looking at offering it every spring, looking at college readiness and students preparing for their SATs. Our placement tests in Wisconsin run from March through June.
Over the summer we’re looking at having a blend between our FastTrack program and the MOOC which would expand to other UW campuses that want to join in.
That would have a cost associated with it. One big question is how are we going to find the money and the people power to keep running these for free. There will probably be a small price tag attached to this blended version for institutions that might want to join in or a nominal fee to have the whole online experience with assessment and tutoring.
We’re going to be having tutors give that first line of attention. I think that’s going to be critical. Ours offers the opportunity for interaction because of the way we structured it with pre-service teachers and tutors. Students can get help, and they can get that synchronous opportunity to talk to somebody, to figure out those different strategies. With any learning environment, we can’t expect every strategy is working.
The way MOOCs are growing I imagine a lot of graduating high school seniors are thinking about using them this summer, whether they’re being driven to it by the necessity of a placement exam or for enrichment or to stay sharp for college. What would you advise a graduating high school senior who’s thinking about taking a MOOC?
A MOOC can be helpful to show what a college course actually looks like, how it’s done and what to expect in their first year of college.
Over summer, taking a MOOC is going to help them learn how to be an independent learner, how to study, how to find that internal motivation, how to seek out resources, recognizing that they do have multiple ways they learn, and they need to find that strategy within themselves.
Students might look at what’s aligned with their discipline of study. If someone’s looking at going into a history major, then they might look for some different history MOOCs. They can use the MOOC as a way to find out, “Is this something I am really passionate about and want to study for the next several years of my life.”
So it’s both a low-risk way to sample different subjects, and it’s a low-risk way to learn what study skills are going to be necessary and to build up your ability to be self-directed?
There’s no cost, which is amazing. If the student drops off, all they did was get more time studying something, more time preparing their mind academically. Whether there is only one day they can find to look into the course or ten weeks, that can’t hurt. More math cannot be a bad thing.