Using free online materials such as massive open online courses in traditional classes can help colleges teach more efficiently without harming students, according to a long-awaited report from Ithaka S+R, an education-technology nonprofit group, and the University System of Maryland.
However, the report notes practical barriers that might make it difficult for professors to incorporate MOOCs or similar materials into their classes without incurring other costs. Those costs might limit any gains in efficiency, according to university officials.
In their study, researchers closely tracked 17 courses at universities across the Maryland system that incorporated “interactive online learning platforms” into existing courses, including 14 that used MOOCs from Coursera. (Some courses used online software from the Open Learning Initiative and Pearson.)
In seven of the experimental courses, the researchers compared the student outcomes with those in sections without MOOC components; in the other 10, the researchers prepared case studies detailing the experiences of instructors as they attempted to meld the MOOCs with their own teaching.
Several of the experimental courses reduced the amount of time students spent in class with professors—an attempt to gauge whether interactive materials might allow universities to chip away at the cost of holding face-to-face sessions. Another goal of the study was to examine the costs of having professors teach their courses with online content that had been created by professors at other institutions.
The findings were largely positive. In the side-by-side tests, which involved large, introductory courses, students in the hybrid sections “did as well or slightly better than students in the traditional sections in terms of pass rates and learning assessments,” wrote the researchers. That finding “held across disciplines and subgroups of students.”
Faculty members, meanwhile, reported a number of benefits that came with using MOOCs, including “the ability to redesign classes without creating online content from scratch,” and “replacing textbooks with more engaging content.”
July 10, 2014 by Steve Kolowich
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