Monday, 13 May 2013

Supporting Students for Success in Online and Distance Education

Ormond Simpson Supporting Students for Success in Online and Distance Education (Open and Flexible Learning Series) ) (Routledge 2012)

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Strictly speaking, this is not a new book but is an amalgam of two previous titles by Ormond Simpson which explores how to support and retain students in open and distance learning.

I want to explore this book from the perspective of supporting students studying MOOCs. There is only a brief mention of MOOCs in this title yet I feel that there are many parts of this book that will help those who are running, or are considering, running MOOCs.

In essence, the book tackles the problem of a 20% completion rate amongst students on open courses. This is a better statistic than for MOOC completion. According to Sir John Daniel's "Making Sense of MOOCs" (2012) when MIT offered a course called Circuits and Electronics about 155,000 people from 160 countries registered to start the course. Of the 155,000 people, 23,000 got as far attempting the first problem set, half-way through the course there were 9000 students left and only 7000 saw the course through from beginning to end.

This extremely high drop-out rate has led to some criticisms of MOOCs. However, during a "Google Hang-Out", George Siemens, one of the original MOOC creators, questioned whether completing a course should be regarded as a sign of success and non-completion as an indicator of failure.

Simpson refers to this accepting approach to an extremely high drop-out rate as a Passendale view of education in which thousands are sent over the top in the knowledge that only a few will reach the end and that that is somehow okay. Surely the greater the completion rate then the more successful the MOOC. It shows that the course was well-structured and reveals a greater relevance to the needs of the students.

The book first tackles the reasons why people drop out of open courses. This is clearly important because if the reasons for drop-outs are known then it will be easier to find solutions. As far as I am aware, there have been no studies into why people drop out of MOOCs but again it's probably comparable. As way of a confession, I have dropped out of two MOOCs. Both were concious decisions and were based on a recognition that one course did not fit my needs and the other coincided with a sudden increase in my professional work.

The next part of the book then goes on to explore how students could be retained on open courses. If any MOOC organisers are concerned about keeping as many students as possible on their courses then this part of the book should be a must-read. Some of the recommendations in the book talks about retaining students through personal contact. This is clearly impossible when there are tens of thousands of students. However, it seems to me that the weekly instructional e-mail could also contain an element of encouragement for students that might be struggling. Students using peer-to-peer support through discussion boards and other social media could also be used to encourage retention.

To accompany the book Ormond Simpson has an excellent website with some excellent resources on open learning. The book can be ordered through the Routledge website.

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