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MOOCs in the Community College: Implications for Innovation in the Classroom

Rebecca Petersen (edX, USA)
Damian Bebell (Boston College, USA)
Lynn Hunter (Massachusetts Bay Community College, USA)
Jaime L L'heureux (Bunker Hill Community College, USA)
Session Information
July 8, 2013 - 1:00pm
Leadership and Administration
Areas of Special Interest: 
Blended Course
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Lakeshore A
Session Duration: 
50 Minutes
Information Session 1
Virtual Session
Best in Track

Presenters will share outcomes and insights from a first-of-its-kind implementation of a blended edX MOOC at two Massachusetts community colleges.

Extended Abstract

This presentation will examine the planning, implementation, and impacts from one of the world's first empirical studies exploring the efficacy of offering massive online open courses (MOOC) for course credit in a more traditional community college setting. In this Information Session, edX administrators, participating Community College faculty, and the third-party evaluator will highlight the learning conditions, obstacles, and opportunities inherent in applying a blended MOOC model to serve students of limited means or background in a traditional community college setting.

Founded in May 2012, edX is an independent nonprofit entity established by MIT and Harvard to enhance campus-based teaching and learning and develop a new global community of online learners. Beginning in Fall 2012, edX began to freely offer online versions of selected MIT and Harvard courses for their on-campus students as well as to millions of potential students around the world outside of the formal reach of either institution. To support this goal, edX has designed and built an open-source online learning platform and hosts an online web portal at for online education.

In its short history, edX quickly established itself as a leader in the delivery of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and attracted huge numbers of students from around the globe. Students were attracted by the lack of cost, the institutional reputation, and the high-quality college course experience. By Fall 2012, as the educational world had quickly discovered the potential for MOOCs delivering college level courses for free via the Internet. After six months offering only a small selection of popular MITx and Harvardx courses, edX had reached over 200,000 learners around the world. In addition to offering online courses, participating universities are also committed to researching how students learn and how technology can transform learning both on-campus and online throughout the world.

Ultimately, the vision of edX is to shatter barriers to education and eventually host a virtual learning community of up to a billion learners. In the short term, edX is dedicated to leveraging their state-of-the-art learning opportunities for a diverse population of learners in a wide variety of settings. This presentation will describe one such effort, detailing the recent partnership between edX and two community colleges to offer an edX version of a popular MIT computer science course in a blended in class/online course experience during the Spring 2013 semester. With support from the Gates Foundation, MIT and Harvard prioritized the development of an introductory computer science course, so it could be first offered as a MOOC in the fall of 2012 and then adapted as a blended learning course at the two community colleges, an experiment to determine the viability and suitability of adapted versions of MOOC courses in different institutional contexts. The course, based on 6.00x: Introduction to Computer Science and Programming, provides a broad introduction to computational thinking targeted at non-computer science majors and introduces students to the foundations of the Python programming language.

As a central component of this investigation, the edX Computer Science course is delivered in an augmented blended learning format to students within each community college setting. In a blended (or flipped) learning environment, the in-class lecture principally occurs online through video and other interactive media and homework is moved to the class meeting time, maximizing the opportunity for contextualization and application of the lessons directly through practice and problem solving with peers and instructor.

The perspective of both successful and unsuccessful students as they completed the course will also be explored in this Information Session, with examinations of online survey data, classroom observations, and focus group summaries to provide generalized insights into the unique challenges, opportunities, and perspectives of this new educational approach. Survey variables, such as past course history, expectations, age, and gender, were analyzed across the student participants to help uncover what factors may be associated with students success in the course.

Although the research is still ongoing at the time of this proposal, results will highlight the implementation and outcomes from this first-of-its-type study. Amongst the questions formally addressed in the study and presentation will include:

  • How can Community Colleges (and other credit granting institutions) adopt and use MOOCs to benefit their students?
  • To what extent do edX courses (and MOOCs in general) need to modification for delivery in a community college classroom?
  • How do different types of students respond to the flipped classroom approach?
  • How do faculty view the effectiveness of the flipped classroom approach?
  • How do students perceive their learning in this format compared to their other online and in-class courses?
  • How does the Community College student experiences (and performance) compare to those students who have completed the same course as a MOOC in the Fall 2012?
  • What support do the faculty need to use the edX courseware? How are institutions able to support them?
  • How do the students and faculty compare the courseware to the traditional LMS they normally used?
  • Is this a scalable approach for community college courses in computer science?

Given the major financial and institutional challenges facing higher education, it is imperative to explore the potential opportunities (and challenges) for next-generation teaching and learning approaches through MOOCs and blended implementation models. Through this session, Community College faculty, edX administration and a third-party evaluator will each share their experiences and perspectives over the Spring 2013 semester detailing some of very first efforts at leveraging MOOC resources in a traditional for-credit college setting. Using personal reflections as well as formal evaluation results to inform their perspective, project leaders and observers will discuss the components of this unique experiences that worked, what didn't work, and address the wider potential for such courses to be systemically employed by a wide variety of academic institutions.

Lead Presenter

Rebecca's work at edX is focused on managing sponsored research projects in addition to collaborating with edX partner schools on program development and faculty support needs. She currently oversees collaborations on blended and flipped classroom adaptations of edX MOOC courses.

Rebecca has over 15 years of higher education experience in eLearning program development. At Lesley University she was the founding Director of Academic Technology and was later appointed as the Director of eLearning Resources and Professional Development. She then joined Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT) as their first Director of Faculty Development. While at WIT she created faculty programs that supported online and hybrid course development as well facilitating new faculty orientation and mentoring communities.