Following on my last contribution to the BestCerts’s MOOCReport identifying K12 teachers as active and desirable MOOC participants, this article details how MOOC-makers might increase their course engagement for educators seeking professional development (PD) opportunities. After consulting a varied group of practitioners and researchers–as well as pulling from my own experience–I was impressed with the high-level of agreement on how MOOCs could become even more useful for K12 teachers. The resulting 4 recommended steps described below begin with the lowest hanging fruit (1) to the highest level of effort (4), and they all begin with the letter “E” (for Educator, of course!).
Take a look at your current MOOC messaging and promotion: are you using key words of welcome in your course description? Teachers will take a harder look at PD opportunities that include references to “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), “STEAM” (i.e., STEM plus “Arts”), “Meeting state learning standards”, “Includes primary source materials,” and other such descriptors that signal to teachers that their interests are important. Susan Ridker, public middle school language and culture teacher in Wellesley, MA, says that she and her colleagues depend on these labels to guide their online research “towards institutions that understand my curricular needs and value my time as a professional.”
Does your MOOC align with content specialties relevant to elementary, middle, and high school learning? Many college level courses feature great images, videos and other materials that also fit into primary and secondary classrooms. An introductory course on aerospace engineering by MITX offers compelling video featuring NASA officials using simple vocabulary and great visuals to explain the same mechanical and scientific principles that also drive most science fair rocket experiments (AKA “Lift” and “Drag”). Busy teachers and parents will find these fantastic resources faster if you direct them with K12 relevant descriptors and key words.
As college prep becomes an increasingly important part of grades 6-12 curriculum, teachers are looking for ways to measure their lessons against the expectations and experiences of higher ed learning. Maria Janelli, Senior Manager of Online Teacher Education Programs at the American Museum of Natural History, recommends investigating NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) as well as the organizations that support them. The National Science Teaching Association (NTSA) supports an extensive website for K-12 teachers, including links to resources and PD opportunities. Perhaps a link to your STEM MOOC belongs there?
Humanities teachers like Ridker also look for materials aligning with standardized learning frameworks, such as those created by her state of Massachusetts that require students to recognize, evaluate and communicate the value of original documents. As her colleagues develop new curriculum on middle school civics, they are keen to identify professional development opportunities that feature primary sources, qualified experts, and other authoritative resources such as those commonly found in many university MOOCs.
Janelli recommends organizing MOOC content in smaller amounts, like mini-modules, that do not overwhelm teachers with too much information all at once. She also promotes offering pre- and post- tests at the beginning and end of each section. Breaking down content into bite-sized amounts models good teaching practice and increases the chance for content to be retained. Janelli’s doctoral research on MOOC learning demonstrates that pre-testing learners, even before learning occurs, helps them retain information better than those who did not pre-test. So don’t hold back on those pop quiz opportunities!
Reorganizing your MOOC content as suggested above still does not guarantee that teachers will use your content exactly as written. Darren Milligan, Senior Digital Strategist at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access and the director of the Smithsonian Learning Lab, runs an award-winning educational online resource that teachers love to use: