What Higher Ed Course Design Should Steal from MOOCs

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Robert Talbert, Professor at Grand Valley State University and author of the book Flipped Learning: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty, returns to the show to talk about the current distance between MOOC course design and most universities’ online programs — and how to make sure our programs stack up well.

There's one big, big problem thatI don't think these mooks have quite solved yet, and that is the humanfeedback loop at scale. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education,the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at theircollege or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies ortools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into theshow. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect Dupodcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education and we're here today withDr Robert Talbert, professor at Grand Valley State University and author of the bookflipped learning, a guide for Higher Education Faculty. Robert, welcome back tothe show. Hi Erick, thanks for having me. It's great to beback. We're excited to have you back and talk with you today about whathigher ed course design should be feeling from Moox. But before we dig intothat, can you give the listeners a little reminder of both Grand Valley StateUniversity and your role there? Sure? Grand Valley State University is twenty two, twenty threezero student university. We're a public university located in western Michigan andAllendale and the grand rapids area, and my role at Grand Valley as I'ma professor in the mathematics department and I'm also a presidential fellow for the advancementof learning, where I work out the president's office, as well as aperpetually curious Perchon, which is why I'm so excited to have you back todaybased on what you did last summer. But before we given get into that, maybe to kick us off today, while Mooks don't have completion rates figuredout yet, what do you believe are some of the strengths of the currentlybetter designed Moos? So that's a great question and I've taken several mooks overthe years, ever since around two thousand and fourteen when they kind of burstonto the scene, and they've gotten progressively...

...better and better. Right now,I would say one of the biggest strengths that the better produced Moos have isjust the quality of the materials that are being made. They are designed extremelywell. You can tell there's a lot of detail, attention to detail,it's plate put into these mooks. The there's great video content that's professionally done. The audio quality is terrific. The learning materials are really excellent to andyou can tell there's an army of instructional designers behind all these moves. It'snot just the instructor doing everything, and these mooks have are able to scaleus up very, very well because they produce these terrific learning materials to provideto their students. That's maybe the biggest strength that Moos have has just thesheer amount of resources that some of these companies like Corserra and edicts, especiallywhen they partner with bigger companies like Google or universities like Georgia Tech, andreally pour a lot of time and money and effort and expertise into creating coursewhere that's really outstanding. So that's maybe your biggest takeaway from two thousand andfourteen to did it to today, seeing the esthetic, the professionalism the courseson itself improved. Talking specifically about your experience as a Mooch students this summerand where you see that acceleration of quality and where you still found the biggestholes? Sure, so the summer I was, like you say, I'mperpetually curious and so I've been interested in the area of project management recently.That kind of ties into some of the things I do as a professor andworking out the president's office, and I taken a couple of mooks in otherfrom other universities, just one single course, moos leading to US little certificate,you know, and it was was really interesting. They are well doneand I wanted more. And so I had heard that Google had partnered withCorse era to produce the certificate programs. They have several of them and oneof them was on project management. So I thought, I'm had kind ofa low key summer plan. I thought this would be a great time tokind of dig into those. So I signed up to take the six coursecertification and project managements, with six separate...

Moos that are all kind of linedup in a row that lead to a certification, and so I worked liketen hours a week, like they sort of say you should do, startingin May and I ended up and it in late August, right over schoolstarted. And these moots were really pretty good. I mean there were II took the mooks and did the certification, partially because I'm interested in project management, but also because I kind of wanted to see what the state ofthe art was and these online courses. There was a lot of hype whenGoogle rolled out these certificate programs and I wanted to see, very similar toback in two thousand and fourteen, what the hype was all about. AndI've kind of felt like course, era is more or less at the topof its game right now in terms of producing online courses, and Google ofcourses like a massive they have more money than just about anybody, and soI wanted to see if you put those two together, you ought to belooking at like the best you can possibly get right now in terms of nontraditional online courses. And I go on to see what that look like andI was really surprised and a lot of ways. I remember back in theearly days two thousand and fourteen, two thousand and fifteen, there were afew really, really good online courses out there, particularly udacity had some terrificcomputer science courses a back them, but a lot of them were just terrible. Their course design was really amateurish, the pedagogy was boring and an effectiveand you could cheat your way through it like no problems whatsoever. There wasno human interaction whatsoever. A lot of those problems have been fixed, orat least they are in the process of being fixed. I mentioned the course, where itself was really outstanding. The video content was professionally done, itwas on point, it was short. I mean there was a lot oflecturing and I don't like that necessarily, but at least the lectures that wehad were short, at five to seven minutes long. They were focused onone thing interestedly. There was no professor for any of these mooks. Thethe content was delivered by Google employees who happened to be project managers, butit was absolutely not from the standpoint of a professor who sort of owns theknowledge and was transmitting it out to the...

...students who sit there and sort ofgrab all at the feet of the professor. It was more like you're just hangingout with project managers kind of guiding you through and putting a human faceon what you're learning, and I thought that was a really interesting approach,to sort of take a professor less route through learning this material. Like itstruck me that I think I feel like a lot of students might feel muchmore welcome and an environment like that then they would in a classroom where there'sthis power structure that comes with the class itself as that was. That wasan unexpected pro for that. I liked it, honestly, I liked nothaving to sort of look constantly at an expert. I mean I was lookingat experts, but the expertise wasn't being lorded over me like it can bein some courses. The pedagogy, the teaching that actually went on and thesecourses it was not a not a lecture driven course. It was really activelearning the whole way through and I was really surprised by that. I didn'tthink that you could do active learning well at scale like these courses were doing. But you know, we'd sit down and I'd watch a video for fiveminutes on racy charts or something like that, and then we would turn right aroundand we would have like little short quizzes over racy charts, which isa really good, you know, proven memory technique for for learning and studying, and then we have a little mini project where we have to build aracy chart for some fake project. It was like this is really good.I mean it's really good. I'm learning material, but it's not just transmittinginformation, it's immediately turn around and putting it into practice, and I thinkyou know, this is kind of what we hope to see in a wellrun college classroom or any class room. It's a friendly environment. Everyone feelswelcome, that we're learning stuff and we're putting it into practice and coming toterms with the meaning of all this stuff on our own and our own effortsand thought. Well, you can't really argue too much with this, honestly. Now the cons. There's one big, big problem that I don't think thesemooks have quite solved yet, and that is the human feedback loop atscale. So when we're learning things in a regular classroom, or its highschool or college or whatever, it's all driven by human interaction, human relationships, as close to one to one as...

...we can possibly get. Sometimes it'sthat's not possible, but you know, at least you know a professor ispaying attention to your work and grating your work and giving you feedback on yourwork. There's no such thing happening in these moves. I mean there arehundreds of thousands of people taking them. That's the M in moot because massiveand it really showed like the the discussion board, for example, in allthese courses were pretty much ghost towns, except for people asking for could youplease peer review my work, you know, and there seems like that was thatwas what the only thing that ever got discussed. I tried to peoplewho try to bring up like real questions about things kind kind of got sortof buried in the other things posted. I'm not sure what was going on, but there was not a lot of human interaction. The grating and assessmentscheme in the courses that I took was based on peer evaluation of your work. So I would, for example, make a racy chart and I wouldhave to post it up on a discussion board where two people, two ofmy classmates, were supposed to come in and do a peer review of it, and that's how stuff got grated and in return I was supposed to goout and peer review to other people's stuff. So there's no instructor and so there'sno grating except sort of crowdsourced, and it's it worked about as wellas you can you probably expect it might, which is really not well at all. I mean it kind of depends on the honor system of the peopledoing the review giving it a really an actual fair evaluation, which didn't reallyhappen a lot. It was very easy. If I were just really tired andI didn't want to deal with it, I could just open somebody's work andjust give them all full points. It's a nice job and I wouldn'teven have touched it. It's there was absolutely no guarantee that I was actuallyevaluating the work that I was supposed to be evaluating, and so there werelike probably tons and tons of false positives in terms of stuff they got goodgrades but was actually probably garbage. I mean that I turned on and somefalse negatives to I mean maybe somebody had a bad day and they just intheir peer review q and just zeroed everybody out and just had to go backand do it all over again. Or...

You could just re upload the samework to got zero the first time and find somebody who had a good dayand get full credit the second time. So it was it was highly unpredictableand the feedback loop was just broken and the courses that I took, forall the qualities that I liked about the Google course era certification courses, theactual feedback loop just simply wasn't there, and that's something that I really reallyregret because I feel like that material, with that presentation, with that kindof basic velocity, be done on a smaller scale or in some way thatis keeps the scale but gets the human feedback loop involved. would be areally powerful force too, super helpful high level evaluation. Let's dig into afew of those points. Robert. You mentioned the likely army, of course, designers behind some of these large moves. It almost seems unfair in terms ofwhat our institutions are asked to design. Spending a ton of time on areally elegant course design makes economic sense when the scale of students are teachingus a large like with the Mook. But how should high at how shoulda typical institution to think about this UX challenge with our smaller scale of studentsper class? Sure well, there's a pro and a condom. Thus,as good news and bad news, I would say for traditional universities that turnedthe good news is that it is a smaller scale and so you don't haveto worry about the feedback loop. I mean you can center everything on thefeedback loop. That's what we and traditional higher education do best. And withthis as an and what I feel like could be a major lesson, aswe move forward is that's what we compete eat on and we compete on thefeedback loop. I mean, how do we how do we beat how dowe beat the competition? How do we rise above the moods? Well,we've got feedback loops and they don't and you can. You can count onthat, because we've been doing that for centuries and professors know how to dothis, how to how to give at least that is something that professors canlearn how to do. That's put it that way. Whether professors do ornot as an open question. Some doing some dumb. There's a challenge,though, because you cannot expect professors to do it all. You can't expecta professor who is evaluating the work,...

...communicating with students, building relationships withstudents to also be the TV producer, to also be the video production person, to be the audio production assistant, to be the course designer and theybe. Just know that one person cannot do at all. Some people cando a lot of that, some people are highly skilled and doing this sortof work, but most professors it's not a lack of intention or a lackof heart, it's just simply you know, you don't have time to do allthis stuff, so that one of the big challenges for us in traditionalhigh read is to assemble some sort of core of instructional designers and make itreally intentional to plug faculty into those course designers and work in a partnership.That leads to some cultural challenges too, because in higher read we're very,very used, we faculty or very used to being lone rangers and being freeagents. I mean our autonomy is like what we value almost the more thananything, and so to come along and say like, all right, younow have to start working with a course designer do your courses most factult weare going to say no thanks. So that's another challenge. Get things it'sthe scale is so small. It's actually on an individual scale when it comesto course design, and that's a real challenge. It's something that has tobe addressed moving forward. On the one hand, we can't continue to beindividuals doing everything. On the other hand, we don't want anything else but tobe the individuals doing everything. So something's got to break. Let's puton your MOOC consultant had. Now let's say you're a mook and you agreewith yourself that the lack of a solid feedback loop between teacher and student seemsto be the biggest weakness right now. How would you suggest they try tosolve for that problem when, of course, they're trying to avoid that at allcosts in order to scale effectively? Yeah, well, I mean Iwould just say put a little effort into it, first of all. Imean it doesn't take much, because in the discussion boards in the in theCorse era courses that I took, there was no interaction. I mean likenothing. I mean not even like a moderator or ta of some sort.I mean surely you can hire twenty people...

...who could come in at intervals andfeel these questions and build some community here, and you can hire that many coursedesigners. Why not hire like only two thirds of those and then putthe rest of the money into moderators for your community? I just didn't reallysee much effort at all being put into actually building a community through the oneplace where you can get it done at scale, which is in the discussionboard. I would even be questioning whether a discussion board is the is thetool you want. Maybe something else is better, maybe some kind of slackchannel or discourse page where it's still kind of like a discussion board, butit's different, it's more interactive. I would go to moos and to sayreally critically look at this problem, because it's there were some things that youcan do immediately for almost no cost that will drastically improve the student experience interms of having a human connection and none of that stuff being done. So, you know, I just want to start with like hiring some people tocome in and just prod the discussion every now and then to get things movingin the right direction. That will be a start. Now you got toactually engage in human communication if you want to have a feedback loop, andso you need to do something non zero in that area. Robert, superhelp of feedback. Finally, any next steps? Advice for institutions listening wantingto make sure that our online programs and experience stack well against Moos as theyget Shinier and more scalable over time? Sure, yeah, so, firstof all, there's not a big need to panic about Moos. Okay,I think I said once before that the first moot to crack the code onthe human feedback loop is going to win everything. But until that point happens, until that happens. That's our that's our secret weapon as traditional higher itinstitutions, as the human connection between faculty and student, and that drives afeedback loop that improves learning. That's what that's got to be. The core, that's got to be the center of everything is students and how we interactwith them, and that's what we compete...

...on. If you compete on that, it's going to be fine. If it's going to be something else like, well, we're humans and we're really passionate about things and they're just coalcorporations, we're going to lose because corporations, you know, the passion, youknow, gets worn down over time and faculty or really worn out,strung out and burn out. Right now, in fact, frankly, the passionis starting to flicker out. So you know, what we have todo is get back to our roots as educational institutions and focus on students,focus on learners and and create structures and great spaces in our courses we're learningand learners or at the center of everything that we listen to them, weask them what they need, we ask them how they're doing, we askthem what feedback they have and we just iterate ourselves until we're doing something,something great, with them, and we can do that, and you canbet that the mookes are doing that too. There their focus grouping people like crazybecause their companies and that's what they do. They iterate and they getbetter, and we got to start doing that too. But it starts withthe students that are in our classes and finding learners that are outside of ourclasses that we would like to be our students, and creating some space forthem, some opportunities from them, where they and their needs are at thecore of all the decisions we make. That's where the feedback, back glutecomes from and that's your, I would say it, almost guaranteed path torelevancy over the next twenty, thirty years. This is the state. Stay closeto students and what they need. Robert, thank you so much foryour time today. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you?They have me follow up questions. Sure, my website is at our Telbert dotorg and there's a contact form on the website and you can just dropme a note on the contact form and I check that every day. Awesome, Robert. Thanks so much again for joining us today. Thank you forattracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations datadriven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrivein this new education landscape, and Helix...

...has just published the second edition oftheir enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solvetoday's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom.Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensurethat you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in Itunes or yourfavorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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