Are MOOCs immune to rigorous investigation?

The title of this post is taken from David Wiley’s blog post that he made earlier this year. And this week on Twitter Apostolos Koutropoulos commented that there is currently a lot of comment on MOOCs, but much less research.

David Wiley mentions that his PhD student is researching MOOCs and I know that Eleni Boursinou of the Caledonian Academy in Glasgow – is researching the FSLT12 MOOC, so I suspect there are many more PhD students who are investigating MOOCs.

I think it’s probably true that there is more comment on MOOCs than published research, but the body of research is slowly growing. Here are a couple of links which point to research and there are more:

A Wikipedia site

Rita Kop and colleagues’s publications

Recently I worked with George Roberts, Marion Waite and Liz Lovegrove (from Oxford Brookes University), Joe Rosa (Cambridge University) and Sylvia Currie, BC Campus Canada (see Tutor Team), to develop and run the FSLT12 MOOC earlier this year. A funding  requirement of this MOOC is to follow it up with research.

Yesterday we had a full day review/research meeting in Oxford, on an exceptionally hot day, which made Oxford’s yellow sandstone buildings look spectacular, but made concentration a bit difficult …… but we had a very enjoyable and ultimately productive day, fuelled by edible treats and celebrated at the end of the day with a bottle of Prosecco! Thanks George and Marion 🙂

We have decided on four research papers, which we hope will reach different audiences.

  1. What evidence is there for the ways people learn in MOOCs (I will lead on this one). Audience – Studies in Higher Education or BERJ
  2. How do you design and plan a MOOC? (George will lead on this one). Audience – JIME or JCAL?
  3. Differential participation and designing for differentiation (Marion will lead this one). Audience – IRRODL
  4. The First Steps curriculum – a case study (Liz will lead this one). Audience – BeJLT and Press release for ALT, HEA, SEDA, JISC ?

We are keen to get this research out as quickly as possible. This will be a challenge for me. I am naturally a ‘slow’ researcher, but I acknowledge that there is a balance to be achieved between reflective, well thought through research and ‘missing the boat’ in relation to the fast moving conversation and developments around MOOCs.

As I have experienced before, it is difficult to know how open to be about ongoing research, i.e. in what sense might openness in the research process compromise the research. I would like to keep posting about our progress and hopefully this won’t compromise the research. In particular I would welcome any thoughts about any of the questions we have and particularly welcome any references to others who have researched and published in similar areas.

Before finishing this post I am going to do a plug here for staying in Exeter College if you ever go to Oxford.

Exeter College, Oxford

My room was a bit noisy so be sure to ask for a room in a quiet area – or even next to the chapel where you might be treated to a Baroque Music Concert; you might even end up in the Chapel at 4.00 am because of a false fire alarm, as I did

The Chapel, Exeter College, Oxford
The Chapel, Exeter College, Oxford

but when you walk into breakfast in this setting, everything is forgiven.

Breakfast in Exeter College Dining Hall, Oxford
Breakfast in Exeter College Dining Hall, Oxford University

Oxford really is an amazing place.

I hope we will be able to show that MOOCs are not immune to rigorous investigation and add to the increasing body of respected research.

Response to David Wiley’s Challenge

I have responded to David Wiley’s request in ChangeMOOC 20011 – that we post a video or concept map or both about the change that we would like to see in some aspect of education. I have never taken on this type of challenge before and hope I don’t get ‘egg on my face’ – but here is my contribution for what its worth :-). If you see flaws in it then you can rest assured that I see many more and needless to say I can already see what more/less I should have said/explained/justified! And ‘Yes’ I know that it is too long!

17-10-2011 Postscript – Thanks to Cris Crissman for posting this link – – in the Change11 Group