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Researching open online courses

In fall, we (TEKRI, NRC, UPEI and possibly a few other organizations) are hosting an open online course. The course will run for about 35 weeks and credit options will be available for students in the Athabasca University MDE program and with Georgia Tech. I’ll post links to those registration pages as soon as they are available.

Over the last decade, I’ve extolled the value of social/technological networks as a means of extending learning opportunities. It’s fairly easy to take online courses or interact with your favorite academic these days. Social media in particular has collapsed the barriers between students and teachers.

One area that I haven’t devoted much attention to is that of distributed online research networks. Most people in higher education participate in research networks – even if the network is merely a means of connecting researchers in different locations, with each running their own labs and research programs. I’m not aware of many networks that exist only online and that take advantage of this medium to develop international research programs, with researchers, academics, and students all participating and advancing their knowledge or research methods.

While hardly novel, we are developing a distributed online research program around upcoming (massive) open online courses (MOOCs). If you’re interested in joining, let me know via the link on this page. It’s currently a closed group.

What are we hoping to accomplish?

Since 2007, numerous people have offered some version of open online courses. While a few good articles have been published in IRRODL and at the Networked Learning conference, most of the research evaluation to date has been fairly superficial. Some concerns have been expressed about the value of open online courses (briefly captured here) as well as the skills needed of prospective learners. Questions have also been raised about whether open online courses can be generalized to include other disciplines such as math, chemistry, and physics.

The following are some questions I have around MOOCs:

1. What are the habits and patterns of learner self-organization in open online courses?
2. Do learners perform better in open online courses that in traditional courses? By what metrics would we begin to answer that question?
3. Are there any subjects that are not suitable for open online course delivery?
4. How can open online courses be merged with on-campus courses (i.e. blended MOOCs)?
5. What types of skills do educators need to teach MOOCs? How can educators support learner success?
6. What principles or models of instructional design are most effective in developing MOOCs?
7. What types of technologies are needed to a) help learners make sense of complex topics, b) manage information overload, c) maintain instructor presence, d) encourage learner autonomy?
8. How do existing online learning/teaching models relate to MOOCs (i.e. communities of inquiry, communities of practice, connectivism)?

Of course, there are many more research questions and concerns with MOOCs than what I’ve listed above. We will address some of these concerns in upcoming open courses (Change, EC&I831) in forming an open course research team. We’ve created a Google Group as a starting point. My goal is to create a forum where researchers (established and newcomers) can interact with others to discuss research questions and methods. Established researchers will likely already have some existing research techniques (such as social network analytics, discourse analytics, natural language processing, concept development, AI, and so on). If we’re able to get a dozen or so researchers tackling different aspects of MOOCs and exploring their role in traditional education, we could have a substantial increase in the knowledge base surrounding online courses in general, and MOOCS in particular.


  1. Joyce S. McKnight wrote:

    I would like to be included in this research effort. Dr. Joyce McKnight, Associate Professor, SUNY/Empire State College

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink
  2. When is the course starting?

    Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 3:21 am | Permalink
  3. Jennifer wrote:

    I am a newcomer with research and am interested with participating with this study.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink