Last month, the NY Times declared 2012 as the year of the MOOC. With so many educators and students involved in these courses, we should think about how we can best convert the university course experience to this new, scalable online experience.
Without the TA to assign and evaluate student work, MOOCs rely almost exclusively on computer-graded assessment. Some MOOCs incorporate these directly into the instruction, but most don't assess until after the unit is over in multiple-choice tests. The professor has no direct interaction with students who may be struggling or falling behind, and they often go unnoticed.
Some obstacles to creating an effective online learning environment have not yet been overcome. What can be done? Here are my suggestions:
Second, create an intermediate tier between the student and the professor. Even though this may create an additional cost structure, the coaching and assessment that can be provided from this layer creates a needed cohesion. Hundreds of tutoring sites, skill exchange, and potentially even volunteer organizations already have people identified with skill sets ready to contribute to this cause, and the availability of capable intermediary TAs makes scaling a possibility.Third, tie the loop between the professor, TAs, and students. The same system that evaluates and assesses learners in real-time can easily provide relevant, up-to-date reports to both the professor and the TA for each student. This way, they can identify common difficulties as well as individual weaknesses and learners who need extra help. Also, the professor should communicate frequently with the TAs to ensure that TAs are providing the support needed and evaluating correctly according to established rubrics. The assessment system can quickly identify TAs whose performance is superior or lacking, so the professor can reward or take corrective action with them. In this way, all three groups would be aware of progress, evaluation, and expectations which would solve an awareness and transparency problem that exists even in traditional education.