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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

MOOC Learners are More Than Bits and Bytes

Patrice Torcivia Prusko (Cornell University, USA)
Diane Sempler (Cornell, USA)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 9:15am
Open, Global, Mobile
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Asia 5
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 5
Virtual Session

What is the cost-benefit of a MOOC in human, rather than, financial capital?

Extended Abstract


In the past three years the CornellX team has developed and rerun 15 MOOCs. It took us approximately 1800 hours to design, develop, produce and build each MOOC. That does not include the faculty's or TA's time nor the time spent supporting the course once it was running. That is a significant amount of time and resources. Many are asking what the ROI is, what is the benefit, and why are we even in the MOOC business. How do we measure the return on our investment when we are not making a financial profit?


Studies have examined the interaction between video length and learner engagement with the video; the use of MOOCs to flip the classroom; and course length on completion. Many opinions have been expressed about MOOCs being a tool of the privileged, a waste of money and another example of technology increasing the educational divide. These topics are receiving a good bit of attention in social media, higher education circles and in the literature.
We are missing a cost benefit by looking at MOOCs as a "thing" that is only benefiting the privileged. We ask you to take a step back and move away from thinking of all MOOCs as a single entity and the learners who enroll in them as bits of data. Rather we would like you to consider the human side of MOOCs and look closely at the unique aspects of each one. Many studies have addressed the "failure" of MOOCs in their ability to increase access to education and "disrupt" higher education.
What isn't being talked about are the number of learners who are using the knowledge they gained in a MOOC to make a difference in the world. These are teachers who don't have the needed resources to create the content or for professional development; people across the globe looking to "reclaim broken spaces" and "cCreate or be a part of a community of practice"; people learning a new skill and bringing that knowledge back to their community. . In this presentation we'll share our approach to:
Aligning CornellX MOOCs with the mission of Cornell University: "any person, any study"
Cultivating a Community of Practice in a MOOC
Using the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) framework to evaluate our success criteria


In our first round of MOOC development our focus was primarily on learning the edX platform and understanding how to design a course for several thousand people. During our debrief we discussed the lack of goals or a "North Star". Throughout the design phase of the second round we discussed with faculty ways in which their MOOC could align with the university mission. In this presentation will discuss several exemplars that demonstrate the economic, environmental and social impact of MOOCs through the lens of the TBL framework. Through analysis of discussion posts, social media and surveys we explored how the knowledge learners gained by participating in CornellX MOOCs enabled them to have an impact in each of the following areas:

Community: Effect on society (poverty, violence, injustice, education, public health, labor and human rights).
People: How and if people and businesses can meet their economic needs (food, water, shelter) and ability to make a living/profit for years to come.
Planet: Effect on the world's ecology (climate change, preservation of natural resources, and prevention of toxic wastes

Examples include the Civic Ecology MOOCs call to action and The Computing Technology Inside Your Smartphone goal of increasing global access to a STEM education:

The Civic Ecology MOOC organized several GROOC's (groups studying a MOOC) and used Facebook as a way meeting the needs of underserved audiences and cultivating a community of practice. People with ties to the community are facilitating groups of learners who otherwise wouldn't have access to the technology or the resources. One group is primarily Spanish speaking, and with the help of a bilingual facilitator they are having meaningful discussions about civic ecology and together building a community garden. Others groups include those in a community where the people can't afford their own devices or the cost of Internet and a group who are disabled and couldn't access the digital content without the help of a facilitator. One learner in Syria shared a story of starting a community garden for handicapped refugees. While we count a single learner in a course, what they are learning and bringing back to the community may impact 5, 10, 100 or more people in their community.

The representation of women in STEM MOOCs is around 15-20% which closely replicates the numbers of women who major in STEM. In the first running of the The Smartphone MOOC we included a page on "Exploring Engineering", interviews with female engineering students, and included female TA's. Through collaborations with other universities, edX and AAUW we developed a strategic plan for creating experiences that will enable women to find meaning in STEM careers and develop a network of support that will live beyond the MOOC experience.

How we will interact with the audience

We will break the audience up into groups depending on their interest and take them through the first three steps of the design thinking process (empathize, define and ideate) as a way to apply human centered design to the societal problems presented.

Goals for presentation

To begin a discussion that will live beyond our session around ways the digitization of education can enable us to find solutions to current societal problems. Continue the process off line and work together to develop and test a prototype.

At the end of this sessions participants will be able to:

Apply the concept of GROOCs and "call to action" in the design of online educational experiences
Discuss ways in which a MOOC may cultivate a community of practice
Evaluate MOOCs through a framework of People, Planet and Community

Lead Presenter

I am currently an instructional designer at Cornell University. My primary areas of support include international collaborations, online course development and e-Portfolios. Prior to my position at Cornell I taught marketing in Panama, Santo Domingo, Prague and Lebanon using a blended learning model. I incorporate cloud computing tools to increase engagement while the students work online and for collaborations across cultures.
I recently earned my PhD at UAlbany School of Education. The title of my dissertation was Five Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Majors: A Portraiture of their Lived Experiences.