Open online course and research

In this What does open really mean? by Tony Bates, he writes:

These programs however do highlight some of the absurdities of credit vs non-credit teaching. What happens when certificate or ‘external’ students who do not qualify for entry to a graduate program do as well or better than the admitted students in the same class?

My point here is that just opening up classes to non-admitted students does little to make access really open, but merely results in frustration when these extra students try to get credit for their often excellent work.

I could understand Tony’s concern relating to the credit versus non-credit students’ tension, with regard to the attention given more to the credit students, leaving the non-credit students feeling like second-class “citizen students”.  Also Tony is concerned on how the system could cope with the often conflicting enrolment policy when dealing with mature candidates who might not have met the entry requirements for advanced courses, but that they have demonstrated excellent work with a lower level course.

There are great points mentioned by Tony when reviewing the design and challenges of an open online course offered to the public.

There are also other considerations such as:

(a) the ethical dimension of mixing credit and non-credit students in an open course – what are the roles, responsibilities of the instructors, credit and non-credit students? What are the entry requirements for both credit and non-credit students or participants? If the course participants are to be surveyed and researched in an online course, what are the ethical considerations for the researcher, the credit and non-credit students?

(b) the education and learning dimension: Should credit and non-credit students be given equal or unequal attention and intervention in an online course? How and why?

(c) the assessment dimension: Should credit and non-credit students be assessed in exactly the same way in an online course?  What sort of flexibility and negotiation in the assessment would be necessary for both credit and non-credit students? How would quality be assured in both credit and non-credit students? Who would be the assessor for credit students? Instructors only? Is peer assessment a plausible option?  How to ensure assessments are validated in an open online course (with credit and non-credit students)?  Is “formal assessment” part of the open online course? What sort of assessment or performance criteria are used?

Here is my experience in the participation of open online course.  Here I would also like to relate to my research experience associated with open online courses.

I have participated in Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK courses) in 2008, then 2009 with George Siemens and Stephen Downes and the Critical Literacies course with Stephen Downes and Rita Kop.  I have found them eye opening experiences, with the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) being offered open to all, with no entry requirements, and without any fees.  They were designed with an all online learning principle, an open sourced educational and learning resources and a distributed learning environment where participants could use the aggregated resources (via course wiki and OL Daily and Daily), create their own resources, create their own blogs, groups or wiki or choose their media space, or participate in Moodle forums, and choose their own connections and study at their own pace, with or without the intervention of instructors (or a minimal intervention from formal instructors, except for the guidance of the resources and mode of learning).
Jenny Mackness, Roy Williams and I, who were CCK08 participants had conducted research on our CCK08 experience and we have since then published two papers- all could be located in my blog post and https://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com  Our research was not funded by any organisations and we didn’t spend any money, except our time and our respondents’ generous time on the research. Our research was also shared with the CCK08 & 09 community for further discourse and community review before they were published in the Networked Learning Conference.  I am looking forward to conducting future research based on such approach, or even more open research based on a community research methodology.  I wonder if there has been any researches done that was based on such methodology, and not for qualifications award purpose.  There is a challenge in that open research could be biased because of the impact and influence of other participants opinions in the research process, and so I haven’t heard of anyone trying this ever before.
However, I think research on open online course would be rather restricted to opening up more researches as non-credit participants would not be looking for a qualification in such research, unless they are also undertaking a formal course or research with another institution.
How would one conduct research on open online course? And who would likely conduct such researches?  The instructors?  The participants?  Or both?
Are you interested in conducting researches on online course?

7 thoughts on “Open online course and research

  1. Goodness, this is an interesting discussion, John. I am also a bit confused. I might be misunderstanding what you are saying…

    My confusion could be related to the fact that I consider this a dis/course and I am not thinking about credit versus noncredit status.

    I don’t understand what you mean when you say that “the research process could be biased by other participants in the research process.” Could you clarify this?

    I am reflecting on of the concepts that underpin e learning theory and the principles of those who advocate for open educational resources, particularly issues related to access, adaptability, appropriateness, and affordability of education, and I am wondering why would whether or not someone earns credit be the issue? As importantly, I think of the nature of networks and communities of practice, which tend to be open and inclusive, invite participants–both at the margins and in the center to reflect on their assumptions about teaching, learning, and research and to personalize their learning. I wonder why the research questions and the interests of noncredit learners would not be considered credible sources of information and insight to the community of practice.
    What were the critical aspects of learning in CCK08-09 and in the Critical Literacy Course?

    Is this community of practice not inquiring into how adults learn and how to facilitate personalized learning within a massive open online context?

  2. Hi John,
    I am wondering what kinds of things might influence the research process, too…. I see your point… the research process could be biased by the impact and responses of “others.” I wonder if the research process could also be biased if the non-credit (others) did not have the access to the same treatment as the credit students? Hmm… thanks for starting this thread.

  3. Hi Mary,
    Yes, I think the research process could also be biased if the non-credit (others) did not have the access to the same treatment as the credit students. That’s why MOOC could be challenging for both instructors, credit and non-credit learners, as each would perceive the equity and treatment with certain value judgment. The credit learners have paid to attend the course, so how would they view the encouragement, support and “mentoring” from the instructors and others?
    John

  4. Hi Mary,
    Thanks for your question.
    There is a challenge in that open research could be biased because of the impact and influence of other participants opinions in the research process. In the case of open research, we need to ensure that participants are able to openly voice their opinions without any worries about how such voices are viewed by others. However, is such way of capturing opinions truly possible, given that people would often avoid raising concerns or criticizing due to various personal and confidential reasons. So, I would like to learn if such “open research” be unbiased to such extent, as most CCK participants (who had registered with the course themselves with true identity) might like to observe the net etiquette in such research, IMHO. I don’t know how to conduct such a research fully openly (with all design, questions/responses open to public spontaneously) without any biasing.
    Like to learn your views too.
    John

  5. Your question is a perennial one, and an important one, as well…

    It took some time to review a couple of websites and to reflect on my own experiences before answering the post, and my response will be largely inadequate.

    Can one avoid bias in the research process?

    I think that is your overarching question.

    This is a complex and difficult question to address in a blog post. The question has a long history and it has been addressed by qualitative and quantitative social science and educational researchers. Since more researchers are doing investigations in online and network settings, there are new concerns about research process bias.
    Some experts advise researchers to use multiple forms of data; others caution us to attend to all aspects of the research process in advance of beginning the research and then to be critically straightforward about what we did, how we did it, and to be cautious about generalizing our findings….and much more…

    Are you thinking of a study of a MOOC that utilizes a mixed design?

    How are design-based researchers grappling with this question, I wonder?

    Let’s think–What kind of factors might influence or bias the research process?

    1. design
    2. sampling
    3. measurement
    4. procedural
    5. error or problem bias
    6. researcher

    I wonder…

    What would be the problem with identifying the sample criteria up front? (only credit students) You wonder if the comments of the noncredit students might influence the credit students, but isn’t it possible that the credit students might be influenced by a myriad of other factors–outside readings, following other people’s blog posts, etc.? How do you control for the influence of other people in their network, who may assist credit students?
    Is it possible that sample bias might result from using credit students, folks who signed up for a course, (who end up being human subjects in someone’s research project), might bias the findings?

    You note that credit students registered with “true identities,” but is it not possible that the noncredit participants, registered with “true identities” too and that they might like to observe the net etiquette in such research, IMHO?

    I keep writing and erasing…

    I grapple with issues like you are considering.
    I concur. There are ethical, pedagogical, and human concerns that must be taken into account when designing and teaching a course and when designing and conducting research in a course, whether that is a face-to-face course or an online course.

  6. Your question is a perennial one, and an important one, as well…

    It took some time to review a couple of websites and to reflect on my own experiences before answering the post, and my response will be largely inadequate.

    Can one avoid bias in the research process?

    I think that is your overarching question.

    This is a complex and difficult question to address in a blog post. The question has a long history and it has been addressed by qualitative and quantitative social science and educational researchers. Since more researchers are doing investigations in online and network settings, there are new concerns about research process bias.

    Some experts advise researchers to use multiple forms of data; others caution us to attend to all aspects of the research process in advance of beginning the research and then to be critically straightforward about what we did, how we did it, and to be cautious about generalizing our findings….and much more…

    Are you thinking of a study of a MOOC that utilizes a mixed design?

    How are design-based researchers grappling with these questions, I wonder?

    Let’s think–What kind of factors might influence or bias the research process?

    1. design
    2. sampling
    3. measurement
    4. procedural
    5. error or problem bias
    6. researcher

    I wonder…

    What would be the problem with identifying the sample criteria up front? (only credit students) You wonder if the comments of the noncredit students might influence the credit students, but isn’t it possible that the credit students might be influenced by a myriad of other factors–outside readings, following other people’s blog posts, etc.? How do you control for the influence of other people in their network, who may assist credit students?
    Is it possible that sample bias might result from using credit students, folks who signed up for a course, (who end up being human subjects in someone’s research project), might bias the findings?

    You note that credit students registered with “true identities,” but is it not possible that the noncredit participants registered with “true identities” too and that they might like to observe the net etiquette in such research, IMHO?

    I keep writing and erasing…

    I grapple with issues like you are considering.
    I concur. There are ethical, pedagogical, and human concerns that must be taken into account when designing and teaching a course and when designing and conducting research in a course, whether that is a face-to-face course or an online course.

  7. Your question is a perennial one, and an important one, as well…

    It took some time to review a couple of websites and to reflect on my own experiences before answering the post, and my response will be largely inadequate.

    Can one avoid bias in the research process?

    I think that is your overarching question.

    This is a complex and difficult question to address in a blog post. The question has a long history and it has been addressed by qualitative and quantitative social science and educational researchers. Since more researchers are doing investigations in online and network settings, there are new concerns about research process bias.

    Some experts advise researchers to use multiple forms of data; others caution us to attend to all aspects of the research process in advance of beginning the research and then to be critically straightforward about what we did, how we did it, and to be cautious about generalizing our findings….and much more…

    Are you thinking of a study of a MOOC that utilizes a mixed design?

    How are design-based researchers grappling with these questions, I wonder?

    Let’s think–What kind of factors might influence or bias the research process?

    1. design
    2. sampling
    3. measurement
    4. procedural
    5. error or problem bias
    6. researcher

    I wonder…

    What would be the problem with identifying the sample criteria up front? (only credit students) You wonder if the comments of the noncredit students might influence the credit students, but isn’t it possible that the credit students might be influenced by a myriad of other factors–outside readings, following other people’s blog posts, etc.? How do you control for the influence of other people in the network, particularly those who may assist credit students?

    Is it possible that sample bias might result from using credit students, folks who signed up for a course, but who end up being human subjects in someone’s research project?

    You note that credit students registered with “true identities,” but is it not possible that the noncredit participants registered with “true identities” too and that they might like to observe the net etiquette in such research, IMHO?

    I keep writing and erasing…

    I grapple with issues like you are considering.
    I concur. There are ethical, pedagogical, and human concerns that must be taken into account when designing and teaching a course and when designing and conducting research in a course, whether that is a face-to-face course or an online course.

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