Nice subject, shame about the platform

One thing that tends to get pushed to the sidelines when talking about MOOCs is the issue of what platform it runs on. We talk about pedagogy, assessment, scalability, and grumble about particular features, but I think we don’t always acknowledge how big a role the platform plays. I’m in the middle of the Marine and Antarctic Science MOOC  from the university of Tasmania on the Open2Study platform. It’s my first time on open2study and although I’m planning a more in-depth post talking about platforms I thought I’d give my initial impressions.

Emperor Penguin

Photo © Samuel Blanc

The courses are four modules (weeks) consisting of a number of topics, followed by a weekly assessment and some of the assessment questions have been less than challenging, shall we say. Each topic has a short video, followed by a single quiz question. That’s right – we’re back on planet video. All the topics are video-based, predominantly talking-head, but with some visualiser work and embedded images or video clips. There is an interactive transcript that means I can jump to a particular point, which is a nice feature, but there’s no text-based materials. At the moment, videos can’t be downloaded for offline viewing, so not only are they assuming video is the best pedagogical technique for their content but they’re also tethering me to an active connection to study it.

In terms of engagement it is also something of a mixed bag. Students get badges for activities such as completing their profile, completing an assessment, etc, so there’s an attempt at gamification. There are forums, of course, but badly implemented. The forums are embedded within the page. There’s a search box and a drop-down to view by latest, highest voted, highest rated or most views, but no option to view all. There is an initial post to start things off, and students can create their own, but it’s woefully underused. The staff member that makes the initial post is not one of the academic staff, and I’ve not seen a single comment from the academic staff so far in the course.

The last major failing of the platform is that of community. In the course I’m studying there simply isn’t any. The forums are ghost towns. In one area of the screen it tells me that there are 495 students studying the course and lists four students that I can click on to view their profiles, but no option to see all the students on the course and connect to them. There is a suggested connections section on my profile page but of the top eight listed in the ‘recommended connections’ not a single one was doing the same course.

So, each course lasts for four weeks and runs every five. It’s all video, with minimal staff involvement beyond one admin person that can simply be run and re-run at relatively low-cost. This is the type of online learning that makes my heart sink, where it seems the economics of the model take precedence over the effectiveness of the learning. The academics involved in this course are engaging and have some interesting perspectives on their subject – it’s such a shame their expertise and passion for their subject has been let down by such an uninspiring platform.