Bring on the MOOC

The eight weeks of remixing have kicked off for CEP811 at MSU. Right off the bat, our first task was to pick an edtech buzzword and use Mozilla's Popcorn Maker (I think they should have called it "remixerator," but that's just me) to make a one-minute video explaining our buzzword.

How could I resist the opportunity to describe a MOOC? (I really just like saying the word "MOOC." Admit it. You do too.)

Here's my final remix:

I'd never used Popcorn before and it actually took me a good while to get used to it. I've done a lot of video editing, so it was hard for me to not treat it like a full-blown video editor. I actually started this on Tuesday and then had to walk away for a little while to try and clear my head before I finished.

I think what I like the most is being able to search for content as well as link to content right in the media bin. It's helpful to be able to paste a link and have the photo or GIF pop right in. I also like that links are included in the live project for attribution. It makes the whole curation process much simpler because I don't have to try and keep track of every source in a separate space. I really tried to come up with metaphors for some of these ideas, but being limited to Creative Commons materials (and I'm not complaining) makes it hard to do sometimes.

I couldn't help but editorialize a little bit at the end. MOOCs aren't that hard to understand: they're super-massive classes taught by a professor (usually using traditional means) to students in an LMS. There is little creativity and little freedom to really use the web. Essentially, they're not doing a whole lot of innovative work, and now, some are making a ton of money off of their platforms.

Of course, the big conflict is that universities also want to make money off of these online courses. So, already, we have a conflict of interests that doesn't really do anything to help students have a better online learning experience.

It may be summed up best by Larry Cuban in a recent Washington Post article:

Given the history of universities and colleges in the United States, chances are that many higher education institutions (non-elite and community colleges) will continue to retrofit and transform MOOCs into credit-bearing courses that will yield revenue. MOOCs will not revolutionize higher education.

Are MOOCs here to stay? I'm not putting my money on it.


Anders, George. "Coursera hits 4 million students -- and triples its funding | Forbes." Forbes. 10 July 2013. Web 23 Oct. 2013. <>.

Cuban, Larry. "Why MOOCs won't revolutionize higher ed. | The Answer Sheet." The Washington Post. 8 July 2013. Web 23 Oct. 2013. <>.

Parr, Chris. "New study of low MOOC completion rates | Inside Higher Ed." Inside Higher Ed. 10 May 2013. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. <>.

5 thoughts on “Bring on the MOOC

  1. Anna Sierra says:

    I am not familiar with the term MOOC and I am still having trouble understanding exactly what it refers to. Could you help?
    Regarding Popcorn Maker, I agree, it it a bit difficult or at least for me it is. I need to play around with it. I am thinking of the possibilities for the classroom. Care to brainstorm ideas?

    • Hi Anna,
      Sorry it took me so long to reply. I just got back into town after my brother’s wedding in Kentucky.

      In short,”MOOC” stands for “Massive Open Online Course.” They’re offered for free through a University and (sometimes) a provider like Coursera or edX. They’re getting a lot of press right now for being super revolutionary in the education space, and I’m not really too impressed with them because it’s simply taking old teaching practice from the classroom and then scaling it way, way up.

      As far as classroom, ideas, I’ve seen teachers use Popcorn maker to add VH1-style popup balloons to videos they either make themselves or find on YouTube. It’s a great way to bring in more resources and related ideas to the basics you’re showing in the video portion.

  2. kjburgam says:

    Brian, great remix using PopcornMaker. You do an excellent job of explaining what a MOOC is.

    Though I might need to take issue with your closing statement that bigger isn’t always better. At least in this case it appears to be. Using the numbers you cited in your remix, if only 6.8% of the 160,000 who signed up for the first MOOC completed it, that would result in 10,880 students completing the course in a single semester. Compare that to say a 300 seat lecture hall being filled every semester. It would take those same two professors more than 36 semesters to teach as many students. That’s like 18 years of teaching the same thing over and over (not to mention the fact that during those 18 years the subject matter and research are likely to change). To my mind, 6.8% seems like a pretty good number.

    In any case, great job with the remix.

    • Hey Kevin, thanks for the compliment.

      You do bring up an interesting point about the completion rate. With such massive courses, that means there are a lot of people finishing a class they might not ever have an opportunity to take in the first place. So yes, I think in principle, that is a good thing.

      However, I want to counter back one more time: with all of the attention MOOCs are getting, shouldn’t we be asking how they’re fundamentally changing the way teachers teach and students learn? I’ve attempted two MOOCs myself only to become one of the 93.2% who drop out because they are so utterly boring. (And I am well aware that I may just have poor taste in course selection!)

      I think my biggest concern is that while MOOCs are held online, the students are locked into the schedule and curriculum set forward by the professor…just like they do in a brick-and-mortar setting. They’re losing out on A) the power of the Internet, and B) the sheer power of so many people learning the same thing at once. I would love to see a MOOC that drops the barriers and allows the students, either en masse or in self-perpetuating groups, design and determine the flow of the course and content. And that means the course and content could look completely different than another group in the same class.

      I think the best example of that I’ve seen so far was #etmooc, held earlier in 2013. Just search that term and you should find the course hub. I’m skeptical of these ever taking off in a real way in education because there’s no obvious money in that model.


      • kjburgam says:

        Again, looking at the numbers (nearly 11,000 people completing a course in the same amount of time and with the same effort on the part of educators as would be put forth for a maximum or what, maybe 400 or 500) is proof that they have taken off. I believe you are choosing a false measure of success when you focus on completion percentages.

        Your questions about how MOOCs are changing the way students learn and teachers teach are excellent ones. In fact, they are quite similar to questions asked about Problem-Based Learning back in the 1990s. Just as PBL moved the teacher from dispenser of knowledge to facilitator of learning, I believe MOOCs will have an effect on traditional roles.

        Regarding your concerns about schedule and curriculum, I would offer that you take a look at DS106. It is a “headless” MOOC that corresponds to a standard brick and mortar version of the class and offers a lot of the flexibility you suggest.

        Thanks for the tip on #etmooc. I’ll check it out. And thanks for the thoughtful conversation. It is a pleasure to discuss things with someone so full of insight and intelligence.

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