The end of the World Music MOOC (part 1)

Well, that’s it:  I’ve reached the end of Coursera’s World Music,  and it seems like over the last seven weeks the MOOC talk in CHE and InsideHigherEd and other places has done nothing but get even more out of hand.  I was going to catalog/index all of the articles I’ve seen one way or the other on MOOC-madness just this past month and then have a “grand statement” on what I think of MOOCs and all MOOC-iness.  But it was all proving too much for one post, so I’ll concentrate here on just the end/last week of World Music.

This last week of class was on the Buena Vista Social Club specifically and Cuban music generally, and I appreciated this as a close-out to the class.  I learned a few new things about Cuban music and it’s fun listening to it– I have several examples in my iTunes.  Of course, all the previous problems of the class were still there:  the bad public access quality production of the videos, the unrehearsed lectures, the rambling grad student responses, and the generally thin content.  Largely absent by now were students in the conversation forums specifically about this week’s materials.  I would guestimate there were about a total of 200 or fewer posts last week, which isn’t a lot for a class that supposedly has thousands of students.  The Facebook page for the class has been a lot more active lately, largely made up of fans and world music enthusiasts more than students, if that makes sense.

There was one more peer review based on the week six unit on the Kalahari Bushmen.  As I posted here last week, I rushed to complete the assignment and I wrote something very short not based on the material (I was supposed to watch and respond to a movie but I skipped it) but rather based on what I thought “the teacher would want.”  And guess what?  I got a 9 out of 1o!  Here’s what my student reviewer peers wrote:

student2 → Interesting general conclusion but lack sufficient information about your argument. You think Voter ID laws are racist, you may be right but “half” the USA politicians claim you are wrong. Give some reason for us to believe you, explain why or link to a website link or two that explains. Are you saying building a border fence was racist? Again, you may be right, but tell why we should believe you instead of the officials who say “no, it was for national security.” Is all use of art for money “selling out/buying in”? The essay is a good outline of points, but your arguments need development and support.
student3 → Well written, although you seem angry about it. Relax! The class is almost over.
student4 → You make a good point about the “fine line!” I’d like to have seen more of your personal reaction added to your essay. Do you think it is right/wrong, good/bad, etc. for each of the examples you gave. You showed how the question is not simple, and yet we still need to evaluate it critically and form an opinion!
student5 → great piece – no reference to the video clip that was required for that question, though.

I’ll return to the problems of Coursera peer review in another post that’s coming, but as a student, I am once again left with the feeling that it just doesn’t matter what I write.  Garbage in, garbage out.

Instead of a writing prompt, this week featured a 100 multiple choice question final.  I got a 73.  I didn’t exactly study for this test and I am sure some simple review of the stuff we had done before would have probably helped my score quite a bit.  It was also a test fairly easy to cheat on take advantage of the open book/open note format of things.  I had plenty of time to do some Google searches for some of the questions that were stumping me, and if I had thought about it ahead of time, I probably could have opened up parts of the course in another browser to look stuff up as I was taking the test.  Plus, if I’m understanding things right, it appears that I could even retake the exam if I wanted to, which seems like quite the advantage, especially if I had saved the original exam.

Anyway, I’m not quite sure what my grade means yet, though I am hoping I am going to get some kind of certificate I can print out and put up in my office.  Or maybe a t-shirt that says “I survived to the end of World Music” on it.

Just this morning, the Coursera (or the folks at UPenn running the class, I’m not sure which) sent around an email with some interesting stats on the course.  Here’s what they sent (with a few comments from me along the way):

Total Registered Users 36295
Active Users Last Week 3859

So, just over 10 percent of the students stuck it out until the end.  I don’t care how much a course does or doesn’t cost, a teacher who had that kind of drop-out rate in anything approaching a “normal” setting would be likely looking for a job.

Video Lectures
Total Streaming Views 206621
Total Downloads 67884
# Unique users watching videos 22018

I’m not sure what this means, but I think it means that videos were watched by 22,000 people, though obviously, a lot fewer people at the end were watching them.

Total quiz submissions 3503
# Unique users submitted (quiz ) 1671

Total video submissions 353999
# Unique users submitted (video ) 9822

These numbers seem kind of out of whack for me: how doe they get 350,000 quiz submissions from just shy of 10,000 quiz submitters?  Maybe that’s 350,00 quiz answers?

Peer Assessments Total Submissions 8077
# Unique users who submitted 2731
Total Evaluations 45242
# Unique users who evaluated 2191

Again, less than 10 percent of the students who were “enrolled” in the class participated in the peer review process.

Discussion Forums
Total Threads 8045
Total Posts 17339
Total Comments 5419
Total Views 243711
Total Reputation Points 6947

Given the number of students who started , this isn’t a lot– like an average of 1.5 comments per student just assuming that we count the students who finished.  Just to give a point of comparison on the opposite side of the spectrum:  a couple years ago, I taught an online graduate course called “Rhetoric of Science and Technology.”  It had (I think) 13 students and there were a total of 884 comments in the discussions, or (if you include me in the mix) an average 60 or so comments per student.  That’s the difference between an online class where the discussion matters and counts for the grade and one where it doesn’t– not to mention the difference between an online course of a manageable size where students are actually involved in the learning process and a MOOC.

So for now, I’m left with two thoughts.  First, the reporting on the number of students enrolling in these MOOCs is pure hype and nearly meaningless.  As I mentioned last week, what is clearly happening here is 30,000 (or so) people signed up for World Music the same way that people sign up for lots of internet services, just to check it out.  It’s not just that they didn’t stick with it; they never intended to stick with it.

Second, I am just baffled and puzzled as to why this attrition rate isn’t being described in the media as one of the reasons why MOOCs are a failure as a solution to the educational crisis.   EMU only graduates about 30-40% of the students within five years of starting their degree and this low graduation rate is considered a major part of the crisis in higher education; 90% of students who started World Music dropped out (and there is no reason to believe that these are atypical results) and Coursera is being trotted out as the solution to the higher education crisis.


More MOOC summing up is coming, along with news (I hope) about a certificate or a t-shirt or something.

13 thoughts on “The end of the World Music MOOC (part 1)”

  1. A few observations:
    1. What does this imply if anything about peer review in general?
    2. I think you’re being a bit unfair to your student peer reviewer. After all, you’re a full professor of English at a major regional university. I would hope you could crank out a 9/10 paper by writing what you think the person wanted.
    3. More importantly, you need to expand this beyond just your own personal experience to really get a valid study. What about applying for a research grant to pay a team of undergrads to take these courses under different experimental conditions? Keep them blind and unbiased.
    4. When can online formats work? I use them all the time. They’re a fact of life. How can they be effective?

    1. Good observations. A few quick thoughts/partial answers:

      1. There’s a much longer answer to this, but the short one for now is for peer review to work, you need to teach students how to do it; you need to have clear instructions tailored to the writing assignments; you need to have students reflect on the process so they can improve; and students need to be accountable both in terms of completing the assignment effectively and in terms of being responsible for each other. None of these things were present in these peer reviews.

      2. See above. I blame the poorly implemented process. Sure, I’m a good writer and can whip something quickly enough, but even the way the point system is set up means that really bad writing is still likely to get a high grade. Look at the comments these students gave– some of them are pretty spot-on. But I still earned a 9/10 because the scale is basically 0,1, or 2 for the 5 different ratings. Writing that was even remotely understandable is likely to get a rating between 8 and 10.

      3. Well, this is a research methodology issue and we could talk more about that. My approach is a lot more squishy in the way that writing studies research is much more qualitative than the research in fields like marketing. That said, if you could get by the IRB issues with the students, that could be a pretty interesting study.

      4. I am all for online teaching– I’m teaching one right now, actually. One of the things I think is extremely positive about the whole MOOC movement is it is putting online pedagogy on the radar of elite institutions who never paid attention to it before. The reason why this MOOC stuff seems so radical to folks at places like Stanford and U of M and UPenn is because, unlike places like EMU, they haven’t previously had any significant presence in online courses previously.

      Of course, there are two problems with all this though. First, as I’ve written about before here, it is incredibly arrogant and ignorant of these folks to think that they have “discovered” the idea of teaching online. Second, the basic premise that a course (online or otherwise) can function effectively with thousands of students is at odds with just about everything else I’ve ever heard or read, particularly with online classes. I like to keep mine to 20 or less.

  2. thanks for writing about your experiences Steve. I’ve been following your posts on this MOOC and I have to say that I agree with your assessment and concerns. I don’t know why anyone would think these kinds of experiences could serve as an alternative to a college education. One might as well check out a few books from the library instead. In fact, MOOC participation might be better compared with the use of a public library by its patrons.

  3. I’ve done a few MOOCs and think some of your points are unfair.
    You say that only 10% who started finished it and in a conventional scenario the teacher would be looking for a job. Normally if a student has paid for the education of course they will be more likely to stick with it also most people doing MOOC either have jobs or formal study that has to come first – unexpected time commitments can come up and finally you also say that people just signed up to “check it out” – none of these reflect badly on the teacher.

    Furthermore why is signing up just to check out a course bad? I’ve done this for a few – I knew I didn’t have the time to do them but wanted access to the materials to browse out of interested and the forums to see what people made of the course – I’ve been doing a science course and have to say the forums were an invaluable source of help , maybe there is a stark contrast in the way they are utilised between science and humanities courses therefore).

    I’ll be doing my first peer review course soon anyway (writing in the sciences), so maybe then might start to relate to your blog a bit more, will be interesting to see how it goes after all the comments on peer review.

    1. Here’s what I’m trying to get at: if only 10% of the people who enroll in a free class (albeit one with no real value in terms of a credit) stick with it, then that means that 90% of the people said “this isn’t worth it.” That’s not good.

      And the reason why it’s important to note that a huge number of people who enrolled in this (and other) Coursera courses never intended to actually do anything with the course is the hype. Coursera et al has been grabbing a lot of headlines because they claim to have 30,000 students in a class. The reality is they have more like 3,000 students– still a lot, but not nearly as big of a deal.

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