Reclaim Open Learning

better online learning for higher ed

The Saxifrage School

September 19, 2013 by Claudia Caro Sullivan

Timothy Cook, The Saxifrage School

The Saxifrage School MOOC-Hybrid Prototype

Our MOOC-hybrid course prototype combines the cost-savings and top-quality content of an expert-created online Coursera class with the context and motivation found in a face-to-face group setting. This first class prototype utilized a Coursera class (GIS/Maps) as the base curriculum, and then extended the learning with an in-person instructor and project-based learning. In addition to learning from Coursera and our instructor, students gain experience completing mapping projects for local non-profits and close out the course with a “Map Geek Feast”, a time to connect with and be encouraged by local experts and potential mentors in the GIS field. We also use the free course management platform Lore.

In our course, students work side-by-side with our instructor in planning their projects and the entire course direction is decided by student input during the first two weeks. The hybrid course is hosted in the board room of a local non-profit that focuses on urban land reclamation. We see great potential in this new hybrid model as it allows us to do two things simultaneously: 1. provide a local participatory experience for students who find online-only learning de-motivating; 2. offer an 11-week, postsecondary course (including a closing dinner) for just $295. The value of the open content reduces the workload for our in-person instructor, allowing us to offer the course at an extremely low cost.

Our MOOC-hybrid course works to make open learning content more accessible to those who cannot afford expensive university courses, but are overwhelmed or bored by the idea of learning in an online program. By charging a small amount, we can offer a middle ground that nicely balances cost and quality. Open educational content is only valuable when students are able and motivated to learn from it.

In our first MOOC-hybrid, students digest the Coursera material independently and then meet weekly to discuss and troubleshoot content and go deeper into the subject with our in-person instructor. Students range from professionals to high schoolers. We have noticed that the students tend to describe themselves as having a hands-on, relationally-motivated learning style, shying away from solo learning experiences.

From the first week, we are honest with our students about the experimental nature of the class and ask for help developing and refining this and future courses. They are as excited as we are to think critically and creatively about the potential of the open online learning movement.

A remaining question is how to plan curriculum for our larger course around a MOOC offering when MOOCs, so far, rarely offer advance copies of syllabi or robust course details. Our first course’s curriculum involved a lot of guesswork because the MOOC instructor offered only vague course details to build on. Some Twitter communications resulted in a fuller, but still vague, syllabus from the instructor 3 weeks before it began. As we move forward, we want to work with MOOCs to offer advance copies of syllabi and foster the creation of a crowd-sourced platform for extending MOOC learning opportunities. We would love to contribute to and benefit from an open-platform for “bonus” content attached to each and every MOOC.

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