Comparative Online Course Evaluation in 3 Days

Two courses that I evaluated were Leaning How to Learn and Memory Through Movies. Both courses were accessed through Coursera from well-known university institutions, UC San Diego and Wesleyan.  The courses were free to enroll but did provide additional services for an additional $49 fee. Their lengths were 4 and 5 weeks respectively. These courses were introductory in level and with students that seemed to be from diverse backgrounds.

A quality course was defined as being organized in manner to facilitate learning. To measure this I used a course evaluation rubric created by Quality Matters and selected specific measuring standards that I felt was most important to learning (click to view online course rubric). A course needed four essential components:

  1. Course introduction to explain what the course was about, skills and knowledge students would learn and how to apply them, and syllabus to inform about sequences of lessons and activities.
  2. Course content which would have the resources and materials to present the information grouped and organized to align with the learning objectives.
  3. Learning interactions which would have the activities and recommendations so that students could develop, practice, and apply their learning.
  4. Assessments using an instrument to measure quality of work. It would provide an explanation of the knowledge and skills students would be responsible for.

Which is better?

After reviewing both courses the main differences that I found were the activities to develop learning and assessments used to check for learning. (Click to view the evaluation rubric.) Both courses utilized automated quizzes to check key points from video lectures. Both used discussion boards to share thoughts related to lesson topics. However, Learning How to Learn had two additional optional assignments. These were beneficial for learning because through choice it took into account differences in learning preferences and levels. It was the answer for students who were more motivated and wanted to work on more academically rigorous activities. The first activity was a reflective essay where learners needed to explain a personal learning challenge, further explain the challenge with light research, and explain the solution following light research. The second optional activity was a project. It gave students the flexibility to do a presentation, writing, wiki, video, or any other creative plan a student might have. The requirement was that it had to connect three themes from the course. Both of these assignments provided an assessment that explained how grading would be done, both required peer reviews with tips on how to peer review classmates, and feedback from the instructor’s assistants.

Both courses gave learners the option to receive a university certificate upon course completion. However, Learning How to Learn gave student more bang for the buck with additional educational services. The added optional activities provided opportunities to satisfy key learning principles not utilized from the discussion board alone. Learners:

  1. Were presented with an authentic ill structured problem
  2. Activated existing knowledge and experience
  3. Applied new knowledge and skills to solve a problem
  4. Presented with activities to support different learning needs
  5. Were provided supplemental authentic learning resources
  6. Given expert feedback
  7. Were allowed to self-direct

The evaluation done by Margaryan, Bianco, and Little showed that courses in Coursera were for poor learning. If you compare it to a regular online course that has tuition and academic credit, I would agree with their conclusion. But considering that these courses are free, students get a professionally organized content from experts in the field with instructions to specifically designed to develop learning. Are all courses equal? No, and so the authors’ concern about quality is justified. An examination of the discussion board showed that to a certain extent it was disorganized with comments that detracted from learning. The discussion board itself was well organized with different sections for different types of discussion, but the problem that I noticed was that students were making unrelated comments or comments without much thought in sections specifically designed for ideas and experiences related to the module learning. It seems that some of the learners were either new to online learning or not aware of the manners for participation. Guidelines for participation were provided but these referred to netiquette such as being respectful, no spamming, understand cultural difference, etc. Adding supplemental guidelines to further explain the topic may help to correct it.

References:

Margaryan, A, Bianco, M & Littlejohn, A. (2015). Instructional Quality of Massive Open Online Courses. Computers & Education, 80(1), 77-83.

Quality matters. (2011-2013). Quality Matters. Retrieved 10 July, 2016, from http://howto.wikispaces.umb.edu/file/view/QM Standards 2011-2013.pdf

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