Whitney Kilgore, The University of North Texas
Robin Bartoletti, The University of North Texas Health Science Center
Maha Al Freih, George Mason University
Originally published in the 2015 European MOOC Stakeholder Summit conference proceedings and republished with permission from the 2015 eMOOCS conference committee.
In the Fall of 2013 “The Human Element: An essential online course component” was facilitated on the Canvas Open Network. Lessons the authors learned upon reflection about design, pedagogy, and research led to the second iteration: “Humanizing Online Instruction: Building a Community of Inquiry (CoI)” a 4-week Micro-MOOC made available Spring 2015. These professional development courses were designed for instructors who teach online and hybrid courses and wish to improve their online teaching practice. The courses introduced participants to the CoI framework. Participants in these networked learning experiences actively explored emerging technologies and developed digital assets that they could employ in their own online teaching practice. In this paper, the designers and instructors share experiences and lessons learned and describe efforts taken to design, develop, and evaluate the second offering of this MOOC.
MOOCs utilize a digital ecosystem that allows learners to self-organize around a topic of common interest. In “Humanizing Online Instruction,” a networked community of practice is created that encourages the sharing of teaching practices through blogging, tweeting, status updates, etc. Leveraging an online delivery system (Canvas.net from Instructure) for professional development reduces the participation barrier for online educators, creates a student experience from which they can explore and reflect, and develops a cross-institutional community of practice (Anderson, 2011). It is the transparent sharing and the reflecting component of the course that allows the learners to experience the power of social presence, which drives the cognitive element. Ganza (2012) states, “Reflection is the key ingredient of effective professional development” (p. 31). Based upon the model defined by Couros (2009), the facilitators will promote learning experiences that are open, collaborative, reflective, transparent, and social.
The authors have developed numerous Micro-MOOCs (4-week format) since 2011. All of these courses were focused on providing professional development to educators. The strengths of these courses, as stated by the learners, have been the connections between the individual participants and between the participants and the facilitators that last beyond the actual course. This sentiment is aligned with the findings from Kop (2011) who said that the closer the ties evidenced between the people, the higher the level of presence and the higher the level of engagement in the course activities.
Each weekly module in the course contains annotated research and activities related to specific elements of the CoI framework (i.e. instructor, social, and cognitive presence). Building the course upon the foundation of the CoI grounded the course’s application-based activities in theory. The course began with an orientation week (Week 0) where learners prepare for the subsequent weeks by creating a blog and a twitter account if they did not yet have one, introduce themselves using video on the discussion board, and attending or watching the recorded session “Humanizing your online course” by Michelle Pacansky-Brock. The second week of the course focused on instructor (teaching) presence and the CoI in online education. Week three was centered on social presence, and the final week of the course was related to cognitive presence.
When designing “The Human Element,” the designers did not have a good sense of the potential audience for the course or their experiences and were truly designing for the unknown learner. In the course re-design, the designers used the demographics from the previous participants to inform their understanding of the potential audience. The demographic information below was collected during the first week of the course (see Table 1).
In an effort to ensure that the redesigned course would be pedagogically beneficial for faculty who teach online, the competencies for online teaching success defined by Penn State were reviewed. The Humanizing Online Instruction MOOC addresses nine of the 27 Penn State competencies. (1) Attending to the unique challenges of distance learning where learners are separated by time and geographic proximity and interactions are primarily asynchronous in nature. (2) Provision of detailed feedback on assignments and exams. (3) Communication with students about course progress and changes. (4) Promotion and encouragement of a learning environment that is safe, inviting, and mutually respectful. (5) Monitoring and management of student progress. (6) Communication of course goals and outcomes. (7) Provision of evidence to students of their presence in the course on a regular basis. (8) Effective use of course communication systems. And (9) Communication of expectations of student course behavior (Ragan, Bigatel, Kennan, & Dillon, 2012). The course learning objectives are thoughtfully crafted and aligned with these pedagogical competencies for online teaching (see Table 2).
Each weekly module contains authentic assessments that allowed for evaluation of learning, includes a variety of engagement opportunities including a few Google Hangouts that participants can watch live or later, and requires task completion to earn the badges for instructor presence, social presence, cognitive presence, and the CoI badge. Each week of the MOOC is designed as a stand-alone module in which participants can earn individual badges for completing specific tasks for that week (example; in week one the activities are focused on instructor presence, so the completion of the required assignments earn the participant the instructor presence badge). Those learners who elect to complete all course assignments will be eligible to earn a course completion badge known as the Community of Inquiry badge. The participants will demonstrate an understanding of the CoI, reflect on their own teaching practices, and develop an action plan to implement methods to increase teaching, social and cognitive presence in their future courses. The design of the authentic assessments ensures that learners have a strong foundation in the community of inquiry as well as ways that they can apply the principles in a very practical manner in their own teaching right away.
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Using a similar method, the learning outcomes and learning activities were reviewed for alignment. Prior to the awarding of the course badge, the designers determined through the alignment process the tasks that demonstrate the competencies that are necessary to receive each of the badges. It was discovered that many of the learning activities align to multiple standards as seen in Table 3.
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Course Design Evaluation
Prior to learners entering the newly revised course for the first time, it will undergo an extensive review. There are three steps to the formative evaluation cycle. First, the instructors who will co-facilitate the course will review and edit one module each. Next, the entire course will undergo a full review using the Continuing and Professional Education (CPE) MOOC rubric designed by Quality Matters in conjunction with EQUFEL and the Gates Foundation. The Humanizing Online Instruction MOOC reviewers are from Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. and are all qualified learning designers (master’s degree or higher in instructional design) with a minimum of 10 years of design experience. One reviewer is a certified Master Reviewer for Quality Matters and will oversee the training of the volunteer reviewers and lead the review process. After this review cycle is complete, the course will again be edited based on the feedback from the review team. These edits will ensure the course contains all of the remaining standards of the Quality Matters rubric that may have been missed in the previous development and editing process. And finally, the Canvas Network Instructional Design team will review the course before it is made available to learners.
Due to the concerns raised regarding technology proficiency, the Online Learning Readiness Scale (Hung, Chou, Chen, & Own, 2010) and Stages of Adoption of Technology instrument (Christensen & Knezek, 1999) will be administered in week one of the new iteration of the course. The data from these instruments will allow us to identify participants who may require additional resources and support with technology tools during the course. Furthermore, the relatively low retention rate of MOOC participants has been a central criticism in the popular discourse. In these discussions, retention is commonly defined as the fraction of individuals who enroll in a MOOC and successfully finish a course to the standards specified by the instructor (Koller, Ng, Do, & Chen, 2013). However, the varying and shifting learners’ intentions for participating in MOOCs calls for new metrics that go above and beyond the traditional benchmarks of certification, grades, and completion in order to understand what actually happens in a MOOC (Bayne & Ross, 2014; Ho et al., 2014). In our attempt to understand persistence in MOOCs that captures these varying motivations, we will employ different data sources such as micro-analytic measures (DiBenedetto & Zimmerman, 2010) and trace log data to examine whether specific self-regulated learning process relates to participants persistence in achieving the individual goals they set for themselves during the first week of the course.
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Ragan, L.C., Bigatel, P.M., Kennan, S.S.,& Dillon, J.M (2012). From research to practice: Towards the development of an integrated and comprehensive faculty development program. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(5), 71-86.