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.

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