Sunday, October 6, 2013

Exploring MOOCs with edX

This is a demonstration of the edX courses provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University and even from the demonstration you can tell that they have done their homework. The course is very user-friendly because it is designed linearly so that "students move in the same path through the concepts, topics, and modules, and complete the same assessments and tests" (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 170). There are navigational menus at the top that take learners through the topics of the modules and there is a menu on the side that defines the modules. In fact,  the modules are divided by the weeks so that students will complete one module per week (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 182). Because of the menus on the top and side of the course, the navigation is very easy and even for learner who are new to the system (like me) and it's very easy to follow.
However, perhaps the most interesting feature of this course is the way the information is presented. It is clearly multifaceted and "the instructors [have begun] to think visually" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 159) because there is the use of videos (and multiple formats of videos such as a lecture, demonstration, and discussion), interactive reference tables (i.e., there is a table that you are able to scroll over and click on different parts to get more information), zooming diagrams and course readings. Having a variety of resources enriches the environment and makes it suitable for all learning styles and preferences. It was enjoyable to explore each learning object because they were diverse and engaging.
In fact, Simonson et al. (2012) remind us that "it is important to remember that no matter which technological formats are used in distance education, the trend is to reduce the 'amount' of information delivered and to increase the 'interactive value' of the learning experience" (p. 157). I think edX has done well with this because there are a number of ways to be interactive in their courses. There are discussion forums, wikis, quizzes, Google hangouts, and students are encouraged to connect with one another by using Twitter, Facebook or other social networks. edX states, "It's a proven face that if you engage with others while taking a course, you're more likely to succeed" (edX: DemoX edX Demonstration Course, n.d.). Similarly, Benson and Samarawickrema (2009) wrote, "[T]he strongest factor that affected students’ transactional distance and engagement with learning was the transactional distance between student and students, followed by transactional distance between student and teacher" (Benson & Samarawickrema, 2009, p. 9). Therefore, if students are engaged with each other and the content, learning becomes more meaningful.
Finally, even within the demonstration course I can see my progress/grades by clicking on the "progress" tab at the top of the course. There's a graph of my progress so that I can assess how I am doing and see what I still have to do, and there is more detail about each module as I scroll down the page to view my progress. It's a nice feature that will help keep learners of edX course accountable.
It's clear to me that edX has "[taken] the time to plan and organize the learning experience when engaged in teaching at a distance" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 188). There is diversity in the presentation of the content and the interactivity so that all kinds of learners would enjoy the courses and easily be able to monitor their progress. Andersen (2009) reminds us "that high levels of interconnectedness between learners [leads] to higher levels of knowledge construction" (p. 252). edX seems to have found a number of techniques in which to engage the learner in meaningful and diverse ways, so I believe these courses will maximize the learning opportunities of any student.

Andresen, M. A. (2009). Asynchronous discussion forums: success factors, outcomes, assessments, and limitations. Educational Technology & Society, 12 (1), 249–257. Retrieved from
Benson, R., & Samarawickrema, G. (2009). Addressing the context of e-learning: using transactional distance theory to inform design. Distance Education, 30(1), 5-21.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

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