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 that I don't think these mooks have quite solved yet, and that is the human feedback 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 their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect Du podcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education and we're here today with Dr Robert Talbert, professor at Grand Valley State University and author of the book flipped learning, a guide for Higher Education Faculty. Robert, welcome back to the show. Hi Erick, thanks for having me. It's great to be back. We're excited to have you back and talk with you today about what higher ed course design should be feeling from Moox. But before we dig into that, can you give the listeners a little reminder of both Grand Valley State University 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 and Allendale and the grand rapids area, and my role at Grand Valley as I'm a professor in the mathematics department and I'm also a presidential fellow for the advancement of learning, where I work out the president's office, as well as a perpetually curious Perchon, which is why I'm so excited to have you back today based 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 figured out yet, what do you believe are some of the strengths of the currently better designed Moos? So that's a great question and I've taken several mooks over the years, ever since around two thousand and fourteen when they kind of burst onto 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 is just the quality of the materials that are being made. They are designed extremely well. 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 and you can tell there's an army of instructional designers behind all these moves. It's not just the instructor doing everything, and these mooks have are able to scale us up very, very well because they produce these terrific learning materials to provide to their students. That's maybe the biggest strength that Moos have has just the sheer amount of resources that some of these companies like Corserra and edicts, especially when they partner with bigger companies like Google or universities like Georgia Tech, and really pour a lot of time and money and effort and expertise into creating course where that's really outstanding. So that's maybe your biggest takeaway from two thousand and fourteen to did it to today, seeing the esthetic, the professionalism the courses on itself improved. Talking specifically about your experience as a Mooch students this summer and where you see that acceleration of quality and where you still found the biggest holes? Sure, so the summer I was, like you say, I'm perpetually 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 and working out the president's office, and I taken a couple of mooks in other from other universities, just one single course, moos leading to US little certificate, you know, and it was was really interesting. They are well done and I wanted more. And so I had heard that Google had partnered with Corse era to produce the certificate programs. They have several of them and one of them was on project management. So I thought, I'm had kind of a low key summer plan. I thought this would be a great time to kind of dig into those. So I signed up to take the six course certification and project managements, with six separate...

Moos that are all kind of lined up in a row that lead to a certification, and so I worked like ten hours a week, like they sort of say you should do, starting in May and I ended up and it in late August, right over school started. And these moots were really pretty good. I mean there were I I 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 of the art was and these online courses. There was a lot of hype when Google rolled out these certificate programs and I wanted to see, very similar to back in two thousand and fourteen, what the hype was all about. And I've kind of felt like course, era is more or less at the top of its game right now in terms of producing online courses, and Google of courses like a massive they have more money than just about anybody, and so I wanted to see if you put those two together, you ought to be looking at like the best you can possibly get right now in terms of non traditional online courses. And I go on to see what that look like and I was really surprised and a lot of ways. I remember back in the early days two thousand and fourteen, two thousand and fifteen, there were a few really, really good online courses out there, particularly udacity had some terrific computer 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 effective and you could cheat your way through it like no problems whatsoever. There was no human interaction whatsoever. A lot of those problems have been fixed, or at least they are in the process of being fixed. I mentioned the course, where itself was really outstanding. The video content was professionally done, it was on point, it was short. I mean there was a lot of lecturing and I don't like that necessarily, but at least the lectures that we had were short, at five to seven minutes long. They were focused on one thing interestedly. There was no professor for any of these mooks. The the content was delivered by Google employees who happened to be project managers, but it was absolutely not from the standpoint of a professor who sort of owns the knowledge and was transmitting it out to the...

...students who sit there and sort of grab all at the feet of the professor. It was more like you're just hanging out with project managers kind of guiding you through and putting a human face on 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 it struck me that I think I feel like a lot of students might feel much more welcome and an environment like that then they would in a classroom where there's this power structure that comes with the class itself as that was. That was an unexpected pro for that. I liked it, honestly, I liked not having to sort of look constantly at an expert. I mean I was looking at experts, but the expertise wasn't being lorded over me like it can be in some courses. The pedagogy, the teaching that actually went on and these courses it was not a not a lecture driven course. It was really active learning the whole way through and I was really surprised by that. I didn't think 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 five minutes on racy charts or something like that, and then we would turn right around and we would have like little short quizzes over racy charts, which is a 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 a racy 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 transmitting information, it's immediately turn around and putting it into practice, and I think you know, this is kind of what we hope to see in a well run college classroom or any class room. It's a friendly environment. Everyone feels welcome, that we're learning stuff and we're putting it into practice and coming to terms with the meaning of all this stuff on our own and our own efforts and 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 these mooks have quite solved yet, and that is the human feedback loop at scale. So when we're learning things in a regular classroom, or its high school 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's that's not possible, but you know, at least you know a professor is paying attention to your work and grating your work and giving you feedback on your work. There's no such thing happening in these moves. I mean there are hundreds of thousands of people taking them. That's the M in moot because massive and it really showed like the the discussion board, for example, in all these courses were pretty much ghost towns, except for people asking for could you please peer review my work, you know, and there seems like that was that was what the only thing that ever got discussed. I tried to people who try to bring up like real questions about things kind kind of got sort of 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 assessment scheme 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 would have to post it up on a discussion board where two people, two of my 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 go out and peer review to other people's stuff. So there's no instructor and so there's no grating except sort of crowdsourced, and it's it worked about as well as 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 people doing the review giving it a really an actual fair evaluation, which didn't really happen a lot. It was very easy. If I were just really tired and I didn't want to deal with it, I could just open somebody's work and just give them all full points. It's a nice job and I wouldn't even have touched it. It's there was absolutely no guarantee that I was actually evaluating the work that I was supposed to be evaluating, and so there were like probably tons and tons of false positives in terms of stuff they got good grades but was actually probably garbage. I mean that I turned on and some false negatives to I mean maybe somebody had a bad day and they just in their peer review q and just zeroed everybody out and just had to go back and do it all over again. Or...

You could just re upload the same work to got zero the first time and find somebody who had a good day and get full credit the second time. So it was it was highly unpredictable and the feedback loop was just broken and the courses that I took, for all the qualities that I liked about the Google course era certification courses, the actual feedback loop just simply wasn't there, and that's something that I really really regret because I feel like that material, with that presentation, with that kind of basic velocity, be done on a smaller scale or in some way that is keeps the scale but gets the human feedback loop involved. would be a really powerful force too, super helpful high level evaluation. Let's dig into a few of those points. Robert. You mentioned the likely army, of course, designers behind some of these large moves. It almost seems unfair in terms of what our institutions are asked to design. Spending a ton of time on a really elegant course design makes economic sense when the scale of students are teaching us a large like with the Mook. But how should high at how should a typical institution to think about this UX challenge with our smaller scale of students per class? Sure well, there's a pro and a condom. Thus, as good news and bad news, I would say for traditional universities that turned the good news is that it is a smaller scale and so you don't have to worry about the feedback loop. I mean you can center everything on the feedback loop. That's what we and traditional higher education do best. And with this as an and what I feel like could be a major lesson, as we move forward is that's what we compete eat on and we compete on the feedback loop. I mean, how do we how do we beat how do we 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 on that, because we've been doing that for centuries and professors know how to do this, how to how to give at least that is something that professors can learn how to do. That's put it that way. Whether professors do or not 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 expect a professor who is evaluating the work,...

...communicating with students, building relationships with students 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 they be. Just know that one person cannot do at all. Some people can do a lot of that, some people are highly skilled and doing this sort of work, but most professors it's not a lack of intention or a lack of heart, it's just simply you know, you don't have time to do all this stuff, so that one of the big challenges for us in traditional high read is to assemble some sort of core of instructional designers and make it really 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 free agents. I mean our autonomy is like what we value almost the more than anything, and so to come along and say like, all right, you now have to start working with a course designer do your courses most factult we are going to say no thanks. So that's another challenge. Get things it's the scale is so small. It's actually on an individual scale when it comes to course design, and that's a real challenge. It's something that has to be addressed moving forward. On the one hand, we can't continue to be individuals doing everything. On the other hand, we don't want anything else but to be the individuals doing everything. So something's got to break. Let's put on your MOOC consultant had. Now let's say you're a mook and you agree with yourself that the lack of a solid feedback loop between teacher and student seems to be the biggest weakness right now. How would you suggest they try to solve for that problem when, of course, they're trying to avoid that at all costs in order to scale effectively? Yeah, well, I mean I would just say put a little effort into it, first of all. I mean it doesn't take much, because in the discussion boards in the in the Corse era courses that I took, there was no interaction. I mean like nothing. 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 and feel these questions and build some community here, and you can hire that many course designers. Why not hire like only two thirds of those and then put the rest of the money into moderators for your community? I just didn't really see much effort at all being put into actually building a community through the one place where you can get it done at scale, which is in the discussion board. I would even be questioning whether a discussion board is the is the tool you want. Maybe something else is better, maybe some kind of slack channel or discourse page where it's still kind of like a discussion board, but it's different, it's more interactive. I would go to moos and to say really critically look at this problem, because it's there were some things that you can do immediately for almost no cost that will drastically improve the student experience in terms 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 to come in and just prod the discussion every now and then to get things moving in the right direction. That will be a start. Now you got to actually engage in human communication if you want to have a feedback loop, and so you need to do something non zero in that area. Robert, super help of feedback. Finally, any next steps? Advice for institutions listening wanting to make sure that our online programs and experience stack well against Moos as they get Shinier and more scalable over time? Sure, yeah, so, first of 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 on the 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 it institutions, as the human connection between faculty and student, and that drives a feedback 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 interact with 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 coal corporations, we're going to lose because corporations, you know, the passion, you know, gets worn down over time and faculty or really worn out, strung out and burn out. Right now, in fact, frankly, the passion is starting to flicker out. So you know, what we have to do 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 learning and learners or at the center of everything that we listen to them, we ask them what they need, we ask them how they're doing, we ask them 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 can bet that the mookes are doing that too. There their focus grouping people like crazy because their companies and that's what they do. They iterate and they get better, and we got to start doing that too. But it starts with the students that are in our classes and finding learners that are outside of our classes that we would like to be our students, and creating some space for them, some opportunities from them, where they and their needs are at the core of all the decisions we make. That's where the feedback, back glute comes from and that's your, I would say it, almost guaranteed path to relevancy over the next twenty, thirty years. This is the state. Stay close to students and what they need. Robert, thank you so much for your 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 dot org and there's a contact form on the website and you can just drop me a note on the contact form and I check that every day. Awesome, Robert. Thanks so much again for joining us today. Thank you for attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix...

...has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today'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 ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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