Stanford MOOC Assignments and Disconnects

I had a chance exchange via Twitter with someone I have followed for a while, Joyce Seitzinger. She’s well-respected in Moodle circles, and is also an active participant in DNLE and regularly contributes through the Twitter #DNLE hashtag.

She was expressing some frustration with the nature of assignments and their (relative) lack of instructional/learning design.  I have to say, I agree with her.  One of the things that drew me to this MOOC was the fact that there were required submissions, peer review, and teamwork…those factors seemed to set it apart from other MOOCs.  Brad Ovenell-Carter, another DNLE participant was also part of this discussion. What Joyce is saying, and I completely agree is that the assignments seem too scattered and disconnected.  It’s very difficult to connect them as part of a more cohesive whole and it seems to point to some potential flaws in the overall instructional design.  I am also not clear on how these individual assignments are going to connect to the team assignments; indeed I’m not even clear as to what form the team assignments will take.  My thoughts, for what they are worth, is that if a couple of highly-educated English speakers are having trouble with this, what impact is it having on the International students? What impact does this lack of clarity also have on retention/participation?

Joyce suggests that a clear and concise roadmap is a possible solution to this issue.  I know she’s working on something at her end, but I want to toss out a few ideas of my own.  These ideas worked well during my graduate studies so there’s some basis for the suggestion. To help with consistency, the (individual) assignments should start by asking the learners to think about a situation that could serve as the foundation for subsequent assignments. (e.g. Situation description, then moving to the Bloom’s/Technology matrix.)  The roadmap would articulate the Assignments from Course start to Course end, a description of each assignment, along with the information that details the connections between assignments.  This same principle would apply to the Team assignments.  The team could select one of the situations proposed by its members, and it then serves as the foundation for the remaining Team submissions (whatever those are).  A simple rubric could tie all these things together.

Overly simplistic? Maybe. But it’s also Learning Design 101. If MOOC participants can’t make head or tail out of what they’re supposed to be doing or even achieving, then their interest in continuing the MOOC is going to drop precipitously.  I admire Prof. Kim for what he’s trying to achieve, but it seems to be a hard slog for all of us to get there.

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About Mark L. Sheppard

learning geek, lifelong learner, terminally curious, recovering blogger and Ed Tech explorer.

Posted on November 23, 2012, in backchannel, DNLE, ideas, Innovation, Instructional Design, opinion, personal development, reflection, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Good points. There is no question there are limitations–and sometimes frustrating ones–in the DNLE MOOC. See the conversation we’re having over on Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/1/110198269795443800074/posts/YgbRxvRMTqc

    But I can’t help wondering if a MOOC isn’t some quite different than what we’re expecting of it. I would agree that the assignments don’t (apparently) follow a traditional instructional design. But perhaps we can think of another kind instructional design. Traditional thinking supposes learning comes from knowledge transfer. What if we look at this MOOC experience as a study in socially constructed knowledge. I mean, I tend to look at the assignments less as what I get from them and more of what do we collectively learn from the experience of working with them. That “we” by the way, would include the instructors and TAs. In this case, no one is the instructor as such and the assignments are less assignments and more invitations.

    • Brad: You make some excellent points here, so I thank you for this well-reasoned comment. There’s definitely an aspect of “expectations management” involved when engaging in a new learning experience. I like the idea that we should be engaging in socially-constructed knowledge, but I think the stage needs to be set by the hosts. Even to go so far as to create a “how to get the most out of this MOOC” guidebook…

      Alternatively, have some guided discussions about some of the ongoing issues and the “what did you learn” stuff.

      Either way, I still think the assignment issue is the one that’s in need of addressing. Regardless of how the course is structured, engagement will come from the learner’s perceived relevance of the required submissions. I find it difficult to do these submissions in isolation and I really don’t want to just “mail it in”; I want to be able to connect each submission to previous pieces.

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