Managing a MOOC

Several years ago I wrote a MOOC, The Modern Genius: Art and Culture in the 19th Century, which initially ran through the Canvas network, and then Kadenze. I had never assigned the MOOC course to any of my students, but that changed this January, when my Honors Modern Art students enrolled in the MOOC and we experimented with a completely flipped classroom.

For five weeks homework was listening to the MOOC podcasts and supplemental reading. I encouraged them to start online discussions or reply to other MOOC student comments. Every week they wrote 3-5 questions/issues for class discussion or further explanation and responded to writing or reflection prompts. They posted this written work to their electronic portfolios so I could compile the questions, review their responses before coming to class, and design activities that dovetailed with both. At the beginning of each class, they critiqued the questions, voted to determine the most compelling, and broke into groups for discussions and the activities that I had prepared.


Each week concluded with twenty minutes of assessment to identify the strengths and weakness of their learning process, the flipped class environment, the value of the MOOC format, and pinpoint strategies that would make them more successful for the next week. Five weeks later when the MOOC ended, the class had developed a group of preferred learning practices that they wanted to continue for the remainder of the semester and some strong opinions about MOOCing.

They liked the MOOC integration of historical and theoretical issues, the sections on design and pop culture, and the format that cycled between video clips of me lecturing and slides with images and bullet points. They appreciated the anecdotes and humor. Fun as I am in person, they unanimously agreed that they would rather listen to MOOC podcasts on their own rather than have me lecture in class. Online lectures gave them control over the information pace, and the flexibility to stop the podcast to take notes, replay sections and take breaks as needed. Since our classes run for three hours, this seemed both reasonable and practical. Although this class is fluent in English, they have classmates who were not and they thought online lectures were easier for English Language Learners (ELL) who felt embarrassed to stop the lecturer and ask for clarification or for information to be repeated.

Only a couple of them participated in the optional MOOC discussions, which surprised me. They said that it made more sense to work on the homework that was gradable and due weekly rather than engage in conversations with unknown students. Ironically, discussions are considered critical to online learning because they increase student learning and build an online community. My students already had those bases covered so they really just accessed the MOOC for content.

Because they were not premium students in the Kadenze course, they had no access to the peer graded weekly tests and some said they would have liked to take them just to see how they did. They agreed that if weekly quizzes had been required and factored in their grade, they would have spent time memorizing information, but only because of the grading impact and they thought it should be low points because ‘it’s just memorizing’. They were absolutely emphatic that they understood the content and the issues better because of the flipped class format and the focus on discussions and activities, in particular the debates, the role-playing and the ethical dilemma scenarios that I designed. They wanted my comments, my questions, and my challenges to their positions. They said—in the nicest way possible—they just did not want to listen to me or anyone talk the whole class time…not when they could get the same material another way and spend class ‘doing something’ that they thought helped them learn better.


For those reasons, they voted to continue the flipped model and spend the remainder of the semester researching and developing collaborative presentations on each week’s class topic, complete with handouts, power point presentations or videos even though they agreed it would take more work. They said that the MOOC podcast format was a model they could adapt for these group presentations because it helped them figure out how to organize historical background, important texts/philosophies, significant events, key works and incorporate bullet points, anecdotes, visual material.

In presentations and papers, I have argued that MOOC courses offer valuable content to be mined and used in conjunction with college credit courses. However, my students’ MOOC experience gave me a much better insight into their concerns and learning practices. 1) Despite the research on building community in MOOC courses, students enrolled in actual college classes and integrated into a campus community are less interested in online activities that do not directly help them learn or affect their grades. My students are all studio majors with heavy course and homework loads so they were conscious of managing their time. 2) Although I do place less emphasis on quizzes and tests, next time I would integrate a weekly quizzing activity which students would do collaborative and on teams. I find that anything that they have to present to the class or defend in class helps them think more critically. 3) I realized from the questions that the amount of information in the MOOC course was too much for five weeks although that was the timeframe that I agreed to when working with both Canvas and Kadenze. In the future, I would plan on two more weeks and have students make weekly presentations from the MOOC content to help them engage better with the information. 4) The experience reinforced my belief in the flipped classroom and my new adage “Talk Less: Teach More”.



One response to “Managing a MOOC”

  1. […] Several years ago I wrote a MOOC, “The Modern Genius: Art and Culture in the 19th Century,” which initially ran through the Canvas network, and then Kadenze. I had never assigned the MOOC course to any of my students, but that changed this January, when my honors modern art students enrolled in the MOOC, and we experimented with a completely flipped classroom. (Read more from Art History Teaching Resources.) […]

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