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At MIT and Georgia Tech, MOOCs Are Showing Up On Campus

Recently, Georgia Tech and MIT in certain courses were given a choice: enroll in the traditional on-campus course, or sign up for a parallel version of the class that would be completely online.

These courses are available on edX as MOOCs. In fact, the residential students had to enroll in these courses on — in the same version of the course that is open to the rest of the world for free. There are many instances of MOOCs being offered for credit to learners who are not enrolled in any of the corresponding university’s programs. But this is the first time on-campus students can earn credit from a MOOC.

The courses being offered simultaneously online and on-campus include MIT’s Circuits and Electronics and Georgia Tech’s Introduction to Computing using Python. MIT offered 6.002 (Circuits and Electronics) as 6.S064 in fall 2016. The edX version of the course is in BestCerts’s Top 50 MOOCs of all time, and one of the instructors of the course is Anant Agarwal, the CEO of edX. This was the first ever course offered on the edX platform. Professor Gerald Sussman served as the faculty lead for both the edX MOOC and the experimental on-campus version.

Georgia Tech offered CS 1301 (Introduction to Computing using Python) as CS 1301 O1 in spring 2017. The online version of the course is taught by David Joyner, a lecturer at the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is also a faculty member in the OMSCS (Online Master of Science in Computer Science) program, teaching CS7637: Knowledge-Based AI, CS6460: Educational Technology, and CS6750: Human-Computer Interaction.

To be clear, this is not a flipped classroom. In a typical flipped classroom, lectures are pre-recorded and can be watched online. The classroom time is used for other activities.

In boths these pilots, there was no scheduled classroom time. The residential students did have access to optional office hours and a few other sessions, but the course materials had to be completely available online. At MIT, 36% of students never attended these office hours and about 35% attended only once or twice. Students took proctored exams, but the exams were done on the edX site on the student’s own laptop.

A total of 27 students completed the MIT course, with 4 students dropping out very early in the course. At Georgia Tech, 54 out of 59 students went on to complete the online course.

Adaptive SmartBook used in CS 1301 O1. Published by McGraw-Hill and written by David Joyner.

The MIT version did have proctored exams, but the exams were done on the edX site on the student’s own laptop. The Georgia Tech course didn’t have such a requirement. Here is what David had to say about his course:

The course was designed such that credit isn’t contingent on any human component: a student can complete the class for Georgia Tech credit without ever having a human grade their work, proctor their exam, or answer their questions. In practice, most students do end up asking for help and interacting with classmates and TAs, but there’s no requirement to do so, which is what will allow the course to be opened as a for-credit MOOC as well (whereas right now they must be enrolled at GT).

Students in his for-credit course as well as his edX MOOC could get direct help from David, by pinging him on Slack. David is also a prominent fixture in Georgia Tech’s OMSCS, where he teaches multiple courses and also answers questions about OMSCS on online forums like reddit.

What does it mean for online students that MOOCs are being used on campus?

This is big news for online students 

While these courses may look and feel like a typical MOOC, this is big news for online students. Usually the MOOC version of the course is different to the on-campus version. In some cases, the professors who teach a MOOC might not even teach the same course on campus. Also, there are many MOOCs that can be finished within a couple of hours, clearly much less time and effort than a student would spend on a semester-long course. In this case, on-campus students were taking the EXACT same course as MOOC students around the world, and they were earning credit.  Credit is a real world currency that society understands, acknowledges, and values.  When on-campus students use MOOCs to earn credit, it validates the rigors of the course and even improves the credibility of non-credit certificates. The fact that the on-campus students did most of the coursework on edX helps to validate the platform as well.

For both MIT and Georgia Tech, the results from both these pilots have been promising. Students in the online version at MIT rated the course as significantly less stressful than their on-campus classes. At Georgia Tech, based on test scores, no statistically significant differences were observed.

MIT has published a working paper which provides detailed results of the pilot. You can also read thoughts from Kenneth Friedman, an MIT undergrad who choose to do the online version of the course. Georgia Tech hasn’t published a paper, but this Insider Higher Ed article provides more information.

Both these universities plan to offer their courses again with further tweaks and improvements. MIT plans to coordinate with the on-campus instructors and have students from both versions of the courses take the same exam.  

Introduction to Computing using Python | GTx on edX | Course About Video