MOOCs: The Jesuit Way of the Why and How

In this lengthy post, I want to explore best practices in delivering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs). In looking to find the answers, I revert back to ensuring the ‘human touch’ and relevant values found in Jesuit institutions like the one I currently work at. To my knowledge, a MOOC hasn’t been conducted at a Jesuit college and I want to explore what a MOOC would look like at such an institution.

Why should colleges consider running a MOOC?

Yes, the first question to answer is WHY a Jesuit college would invest their time in running a MOOC when resources are already stretched to the max. First, colleges are always looking to invest in free advertising. As the first Jesuit college to offer a MOOC, they will no doubt receive recognition through media in the process. Likewise, they will build up some credibility in the academic community for being technologically  innovative and contributing back to the community as an act of service. Finally, they will create a community of learners in the MOOC built on their mission who will be interested in social change and investing in the college in other ways.

What is required for running a MOOC?

Next, the school has to have a reliable system to conduct their MOOC. Coursera is a system partnering with institutions to deliver their MOOCS. They also need a tech-savvy instructor, a few TAs, and a technician and designer to help with technical issues.

What are some best practices for running a MOOC at a Jesuit college?

So after attempting a few MOOCs myself, there are a few things I preferred as a student that helped to keep me on track that I also believe fall in line with Jesuit idea of cura personalis, or care for the whole person.

  1. Keeping in contact via email is especially important. Before the MOOC begins, at least 2 emails should be sent to prepare the student, emails should be sent twice a week with clear steps, and an email should be sent to close out the MOOC with a survey and certificate.
  2. Students should also have the ability to keep the info or should receive a take-away from the course to reflect on it later.
  3. Navigation should be simple and consistent to prevent barriers for the students.
  4. Discussion should be conducted in smaller groups for better student-to-student interaction.
  5. Low-contact hour MOOCs to allow students time to absorb, interact with, and reflect on the content.
  6. Content should be delivered in short chunks- multiple short videos, short readings, etc.

Tip: Gamify the learning by offering badges along the way for progress points and community contribution.

What are some good topics for MOOCs at Jesuit colleges?

Just just not all courses are meant for online learning, not all courses are meant to be MOOCs. In fact, I would argue that the most successful MOOCs are the one’s that focus on a micro-topics with an end goal. For example, the first MOOC I attempted was Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence course and at the end you would code a search engine yourself. Although this topic was still a bit over my head, I still did come out learning something because it was micro enough to be delivered in a MOOC.

Jesuit colleges can capitalize on their unique values and tradition by offering micro-topic driven MOOCs that appeal to those internal and external to their campus community. Some micro-topics might include ‘Becoming a Transformational Leader’, ‘Developing your Personal Philosophy’, ‘Intellectual and Moral Business’, or ‘Ignatian Tradition’.

How do you evaluate in a Jesuit MOOC?

It isn’t always easy to evaluate in an online course, let alone a MOOC. Secondly, Jesuit colleges are looking for more than just knowledge gained. They also want to assess a student’s reflection and action. Aside from posting requirements to the community, checkpoints should be built in along the way to assure students got important points in videos, scored high enough on quizzes, and are peer evaluated on projects or essays. Finally, the student should be given the ability to set goals for themselves during the course and reflect on how they will apply the knowledge gained outside of the course.

What is the ideal length of a MOOC?

Individuals need time to get used to the system, so the first week should not contain too much work to account for this extra time needed. However, since it is recommended that MOOCs focus on micro topics, they should not be too long, either. Another consideration is that some work weeks may be more stressful than others, easily putting students behind in a 1 week format. With all things considered, content ‘chunked’ into 1.5-2 weeks and a total length of 6-8 weeks should be the best scenario.

Running a LOOC vs. a MOOC

Massive is never good, but large is manageable. A few schools and organizations are forgoing the ‘massive’ aspect of MOOCs for manageable. Instead of learning enrollment open, would it be best to cap it at 1000? It would be much more management for the team running the course, and probably a better networking and collaborative experience for the student involved.

Tips for Running a MOOC (or LOOC), the Jesuit Way

  • The Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm is the Jesuit model for implementing the extra layer of Jesuit values in the course experiences. Even MOOCs can be infused with these best practices.
  • Instructors should also get to know their students. By splitting MOOC participants up into teams, perhaps instructors or TAs can meet with students in a Web conference Getting a few times a session.
  • Can stellar students be given an extra award/credit to become group ‘cheerleaders’ and help lead discussions?
  • It is so important to keep in touch with participants, cheer-lead them on,  and keep them on track during the MOOC so they don’t fall of track. Perhaps 2 emails a week.
  • Tie in real world experience and make it relevant.
  • Make the content accessible to accommodate ADA and UDL.
  • Make content quickly ‘edible’ so it may be reflected on and discussed in depth: one reading, one video, one audio. Not too long in length- remember the focus is on the interaction and reflection. Encourage students to explore on their own to find out more about a topic and report back to the group.
  • Create tracks for your audience: make pre-requisite knowledge optional, require the basic knowledge,  and offer advanced readings or activities for those who seek it.
  • Provide opportunities for students to question that the content means in their own life. What is the relevance? Metacognition.
  • The course should always have a service component- “men and women for others”.
  • Besides the activities, evaluation should always be appropriate, intuitive (through rubrics), and relevant.
  • Reflection should be constant throughout the entire course.

I hope this gives you some ideas and best practices for conducting MOOCs. Again, I am no expert and I don’t believe they are THE answer, but I do believe they are a great option.

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