Chronicle Survey: The Professors Behind the MOOCs!

Dear Commons Community,

In February, 2013, The Chronicle of Higher Education attempted to survey every professor who has ever taught a MOOC. The online questionnaire was sent to 184 professors, and 103 of them responded.  The results provide the first insights into a substantial number of faculty who have taught a MOOC.

On the positive side:

“Many of those surveyed felt that these free online courses should be integrated into the traditional system of credit and degrees. Two-thirds believe MOOCs will drive down the cost of earning a degree from their home institutions, and an overwhelming majority believe that the free online courses will make college less expensive in general…

… the positive response may come as a surprise to some observers. Every year the Babson Survey Research Group asks chief academic administrators to estimate what percentage of their faculty members “accept the value and legitimacy of online education”; the average estimate in recent years has stalled at 30 percent, even as online programs have become mainstream.”

On the downside:

“The average [student] pass rate was 7.5 percent, and the median number of passing students was 2,600…

72% of the faculty responding did not believe that their institutions should grant credit for MOOC courses…

“The insights that come with teaching massive online courses also come at a price. Many professors in the survey got a lot out of teaching MOOCs, but teaching MOOCs took a lot out of them.

Typically a professor spent over 100 hours on his MOOC before it even started, by recording online lecture videos and doing other preparation. Others laid that groundwork in a few dozen hours.

Once the course was in session, professors typically spent eight to 10 hours per week on upkeep. Most professors managed not to be inundated with messages from their MOOC students—they typically got five e-mails per week—but it was not unusual for a professor to be drawn into the discussion forums. Participation in those forums varied, but most professors posted at least once or twice per week, and some posted at least once per day.

In all, the extra work took a toll. Most respondents said teaching a MOOC distracted them from their normal on-campus duties.

“I had almost no time for anything else,” said Geoffrey Hinton, a professor of computer science at the University of Toronto.

“My graduate students suffered as a consequence,” he continued. “It’s equivalent to volunteering to supply a textbook for free and to provide one chapter of camera-ready copy every week without fail.”

Professor John Owens, at the University of California -Davis, had a similar experience. He spent 150 hours building his MOOC, “Introduction to Parallel Programming,” for Udacity. More than 15,000 people registered. Once the course started, he spent about five hours per week on it, posting frequently on the discussion forums.

Although Mr. Owens did not ask for relief from his normal teaching load to make time for his MOOC, he doubts that he would have gotten it if he had asked.

“It’s out of ‘my own’ time, which is quite limited,” Mr. Owens reported. “So, yes, other areas of my job suffered.”

The article went on to mention that:

“The findings are not scientific, and perhaps the most enthusiastic of the MOOC professors were the likeliest complete the survey. These early adopters of MOOCs have overwhelmingly volunteered to try them—only 15 percent of respondents said they taught a MOOC at the behest of a superior—so the deck was somewhat stacked with true believers. A few professors whose MOOCs have gone publicly awry did not respond to the survey.

But the participants were primarily longtime professors with no prior experience with online instruction. More than two-thirds were tenured, and most had taught college for well over a decade. The respondents were overwhelmingly white and male. In other words, these were not fringe-dwelling technophiles with a stake in upending the status quo.”

The debate about MOOCs goes on.


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