Backward Design…Have I Found My Answer?

Backward Design: Start at the End

My vague thesis idea, at this point, is to look at online learning, in the form of MOOCs and for-profit online courses, and figure (1) why they are so successful, and (2), how online learning in higher ed can mimic their success. And by success I don’t only mean enrollments, but also student success rates going way up in terms of retention, completion and graduation.

I was reading Pat James’ blog post, Why Our Work as Online Educations Matters, and she began talking about the differences and similarities between face-to-face (f2f) and online classes. She also started talking about the reasons for these similarities and these differences. Her second point, “Changing the method causes a critical use of outcome-based design,” got me thinking. When designing a online class, you can’t just think of how you will asses students’ learning, you also have to think of how they will complete the assessment. And this doesn’t stop at grades and rubrics. For online educators, this means literally how. Can they complete the assessment with the software required of the course? If they use the computers on campus because they can’t afford their own, can they still complete their assignment? If their tech-savviness is not the highest, will this assignment be accessible to them?

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Let’s All Just Calm Down

Coursera has been around for a few years now, but has public higher education learned anything from it? Have we learned anything from the other MOOCs and free online learning resources that have emerged over the past few years?

On a large scale, I don’t think we have.

I read an article this morning about Chicago State University having their lowest enrollments in history this year and also losing state funding. They might not be able to keep their doors open. They talk extensively of budgets and low enrollment. They also mention the undeserved population of students who would be hurt by the University’s closure. But no one seems to be asking why the enrollment numbers are so low. Where have all those students gone instead? To another college? To free online MOOCs?

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