The Chronicle of Higher Education web site recently published an article called 72% Of Professors Who Teach Online Courses Don’t Think Their Students Deserve Credit. The opening line of the article was, “This is not a good sign for online education…” The results are interesting, but I’m not sure that they show what some are claiming. I offer three ideas for us to consider.
1. We don’t know much about the populations surveyed. Was this a first experience with online learning for some of them, or had most of them designed traditional for-credit online courses? how many went through the formal online teaching training required of many who teach in traditional for-credit online courses. It is important to note that this could largely be a survey of first-year teachers (at least when it comes to online learning). Understanding the affordances and limitations of online learning is not an immediate thing. It takes time, study, and practice. Leading a MOOC is quite different from teaching a traditional face-to-face class. You may argue that it is still teaching. I agree to an extent, but I would say that it is has the similarities of driving a car and an engineer “driving” a train with several hundred passengers. There are some things in common (like the fact that you are controlling something used for transportation), but there are arguably more differences than similarities.
2. The people surveyed likely went into the design and teaching of the MOOC with a non-credit mindset. That is what they chose to do. In some ways, this is like surveying a group of professors who taught non-credit continuing education courses for the community, asking them if they thought that participants in continuing education courses should earn credit. Of course they shouldn’t, because the courses were not designed for that purpose. It would be interesting to survey professors who teach very large for-credit online courses, asking them similar questions. While it is not the norm, I know of a number of “traditional” online courses at Universities that consistently have 100+ learners in the class.
3. Let’s not forget about competency-based education. The idea behind this approach is that the decision for credit would be ultimately determined by whether or not students prove that they met the stated learning goals. This survey does not explore that part of the topic. This is not a critique of the survey, as student learning is not the focus of the survey. However, this concept of competency-based education is still something with which faculty are struggling.
The survey results play a helpful role in promoting good and healthy discussion about the idea of for-credit MOOCs. However, I do think that there is wisdom in being cautious when interpreting the results.