Making the grade in Massive Open Online Courses

MOOCs are becoming increasing popular as a way for people to access lessons from Ivy League universities. But access doesn't always translate into student success.

Back to school isn't just for kids. As professors at top universities put more of their course materials online, everyone from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to teens at Ghana Internet cafes are taking advantage of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, to expand their minds.

NovoEd students at the Open University of West Africa computer lab in Accra, Ghana NovoEd

Some subjects don't lend themselves to just lectures and multiple choice quizzes, though. Stanford lecturer Clint Korver teaches entrepreneurship.

"A lot of online education you're seeing the video of the professor. You're taking a multiple choice test. That's the most boring parts of the educational experience. Now it's the Stanford, MIT, Harvard boring parts, so that's why so many people are signing up. But I think we can do much much better than that." Korver said recently. "I wouldn't even know how to put an entrepreneurship course into a video and multiple choice test that makes any sense."

Korver decided to work with NovoEd, an online education platform that emphasizes team-based exercises and group projects in its courses.

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"So how do you now translate the offline world into the online world but use the unique aspects of the social Web to create a social, experiential experience online? In a sense, NovoEd is saying education should really be social and experiential," he said.

NovoEd co-founder and Stanford Associate Professor Amin Saberi said that one NovoEd course attracted 80,000 students from over 150 countries. Student collaborations help to greatly bolster the course completion rate, he said.

"We taught a crash course on creativity and of the students who submitted the first assignment, more than 50 percent finished the course," he said. "This is a course with tens of thousands of students from around the world."

Once students register with NovoEd, they can sign up for a range of courses -- some are free, others require a fee. They watch recorded lectures, form teams, and work on group projects, either meeting in person or communicating online. The work is graded by computer, other students, or a teaching team. At the end, students receive a certificate of completion or get school credit depending on the course.

In addition to Stanford, other universities have contacted NovoEd to explore partnering with them. Stanford has spawned several other MOOC providers, including Udacity and Coursera.

 

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