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Leveraging videos and forums for small-class learning experience in a MOOC environment

Authors:

Abstract

The learning process on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is learner-driven, where face-to-face interactions are limited. Because of this, instructional videos and forum discussions in MOOCs become critical points of contact. However, in on-campus teaching, some courses (such as philosophy) are often taught in a small-class tutorial setting. How should these courses be designed for similar personalized, small-class learning experience, in a MOOC environment? In this study, we dissected course videos and course forums of a MOOC (HKU03x: Humanity and Nature in Chinese Thought). We discuss how a course team might approach video production and forum management for small-class learning experience in a MOOC environment. In particular, two tactics of the course development are described: i) using a structured series of short instructional videos in classroom settings with animations to present abstract philosophical concepts, and ii) providing learners with experiences of solving a relation problem based on philosophers' rhetoric through open-ended discussions with instructor's sustained engagement.
Leveraging Videos and Forums for Small-class
Learning Experience in a MOOC Environment
Chi-Un Lei, Yip-Chun Au Yeung, Tyrone T.O. Kwok, Ray Lau, Andersen Ang
Technology-Enriched Learning Initiative
The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong
Email: culei@hku.hk
AbstractThe learning process on Massive Open Online
Courses (MOOCs) is learner-driven, where face-to-face
interactions are limited. Because of this, instructional videos and
forum discussions in MOOCs become critical points of contact.
However, in on-campus teaching, some courses (such as
philosophy) are often taught in a small-class tutorial setting. How
should these courses be designed for similar personalized, small-
class learning experience, in a MOOC environment? In this study,
we dissected course videos and course forums of a MOOC
(HKU03x: Humanity and Nature in Chinese Thought). We discuss
how a course team might approach video production and forum
management for small-class learning experience in a MOOC
environment. In particular, two tactics of the course development
are described: i) using a structured series of short instructional
videos in classroom settings with animations to present abstract
philosophical concepts, and ii) providing learners with experiences
of solving a relation problem based on philosophers’ rhetoric
through open-ended discussions with instructor’s sustained
engagement.
KeywordsMassive open online courses; instructional videos;
forum; philosophy; animations
I. INTRODUCTION
Recently, the rise of Massive Open Online Courses
(MOOCs) have reshaped the scope of education [1-3]. MOOCs
aim at open access via the web, with no cost, which provide
opportunities for learners from diverse background (in
particular, learners from underprivileged backgrounds) to
explore new knowledge together [4]. Furthermore, with nature
of course contents and the help of subject-specific auto-grading
tools [5,6], data science, computer science and other
technological courses have created a good learning environment
for self-learning, and thus, attracted lots of learners to join.
However, in on-campus teaching, humanity courses (such as
philosophy) are often taught in a small-class tutorial setting, with
learning through conservations. Face-to-face interactions are
important. Therefore, simply uploading lecture notes as is will
not exactly work. Meanwhile, teachers have to design critical
contact points (e.g. videos, forum discussions, announcement
emails) in the MOOC carefully in order to transfer small-class
learning experience online for engaged learning. However, there
were very few literature discussions about online small-class
learning design [7]. Peer-assessment system has been designed
to quickly collect feedback for learning reflection [8]. However,
pedagogies and technologies to support continuous discussions
for progressive learning in an online setting have been missed.
In this study, we dissected course videos and course forums
of a MOOC (HKU03x: Humanity and Nature in Chinese
Thought). The course explored how Classical Chinese
philosophers approached the relations between humanity and
nature. As an introductory course, learners critically examine
two rivaling thought paths for its strengths and weaknesses.
Throughout the course, learners were asked to actively
demonstrate the concepts discussed in the course. 10680 learners
have enrolled the course in 2015, and they have generated 1689
posts in the forum.
Through content analysis of videos and forum posts, as well
as interviews by teaching assistants and multimedia officers, we
discuss how a course team might approach video production and
forum management for small-class learning experience in a
MOOC environment. In this manuscript, two tactics of course
development are described:
xusing a structured series of short instructional videos in
classroom settings with animations to present abstract
philosophy philosophical concepts, and
xproviding learners with experiences of solving a relation
problem based on philosophers’ rhetoric through open-
ended discussions with instructor’s sustained
engagement.
II. INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO PRODUCTION
Philosophy can be a daunting subject to teach, as it often
involves the explanation of complex and abstract ideas and
requires students to think creatively and independently. The
challenge becomes more pronounced in the context of online
teaching, where students learn remotely and independently, in
front of their own computers. So, we would like to answer the
question through analyzing the video production process:
xIn instructional videos, how can the course team engage
students and retain their attention span while doing
justice to the intellectual depth of the subject?
The course instructor is a philosophy professor whose on-
campus lectures are always challenging and interesting at the
same time. For example, the course teacher could speak on any
topic effortlessly, without a need of scripts or a prompter.
Therefore, at first, the course teacher was filmed without much
preparation work to envision what it would look like. However,
the course team encounters difficulties in transferring these on-
campus learning experience into instructional video objects:
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A. The video clips were simply too long.”
The instructions were too complicated to separate them into
shorter seven-minute clips. Therefore, the course team realized
that careful planning of the content and flow is important. In
particular, the instructional designer worked with the course
teacher to divide his course material into numerous knowledge
units which are six to ten minutes long, for a better video
retention and engagement.
B. “The filming was not able to capture the dynamic and
engaging teaching style.”
The course teacher has been asked to speak into the camera
through a prompter, as if addressing the viewers directly.
However, the filming was not able to capture the dynamic and
engaging teaching style that he is most good at. So the
production team put the course teacher in a small classroom
setting and surrounded him with real students and three cameras
(as shown in Fig. 1). After filming, the course team tried to work
backward to make the storyboards, for a neat organization of
taught concepts and ideas. The outcome was promising. As
mentioned by a learner in the discussion forum, ‘That’s exactly
what I thought “an ideal philosophy class should look like.” A
professor surrounded by a small group of students, sitting and
discussing great thoughts concerning humanity.
C. “Students could lose attention easily in a sea of video clips
with subject matters that they are not familiar with.”
With clear illustrations and informative signage, learners can
have a better browsing and learning experience. After shooting,
the instructional designer digested the clips, and decided what
short key concepts and terminologies should be highlighted as
text-on-screen, as shown in Fig. 2(a). Meanwhile, multimedia
designers created animations to present abstract philosophical
concepts, as shown in Figs. 2(b) and 2(c). The goal was to create
the right balance of intimacy and authority. The production team
believed that students could lose attention easily in a sea of video
clips with subject matters that they are not familiar with. So the
production team did a few things to give a sense of structure
throughout the course.
xThey included an introduction and a conclusion clip to
each week's lecture. Each clip has an opening with the
title of the knowledge unit. It also has a clear ending with
the same music played, as the course teacher concludes
his lectures.
xTo give a better sense of structure, they added light and
simple music only to the storytelling and animation parts
of the videos. So that those parts can be easily
distinguished from the course teacher’s lecture.
xThe topography and graphic styles in videos are
consistent and meaningful.
D. Besides the visuals, the audio part is just as important.
The audio level should be kept consistent and steady and free
of noise and ambience. Audio quality should not be muddy or
over-bright. However, the room for the filming was not very
good in terms of acoustic properties. It was huge, with big
ambience. There was also a lot of noise from the air conditioners.
So the production team had to process every word in each video
clip, removed the noise, reduced the ambience to make sure that
the teacher’s speech sounds clear in frequently used media of the
learners, such as laptops with small speakers, mobile phones,
and headphones.
Fig. 1. Filming in a small classroom setting.
Fig. 2. Visual objects used in videos for explaining long and abstract
philosophical concepts: (a) Text-on-screen for clarifications, (b)
animations for explaining concepts, and (c) drafts for the animation
production.
(a)
(b)
(c)
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III. MOOC FORUM MANAGEMENT
The learning process is not just a one-way transaction, but
rather a sort of dance between learners with the guidance of
instructors. What makes MOOCs so interesting is the variety of
learners from all different backgrounds, but who all come
together to take the same course, because of a common interest.
Given that learners come from all over the world, the forum can
leverage that to help others gain insights. By taking advantage
of each learner's experiences, a MOOC can always find ways to
encourage more active participation through open discussion.
Therefore, we have dissected the MOOC forums for answering
the following questions:
xWhat can teachers do to make things better in the forum?
xHow can teachers get learners to make things better as
well?
We would like to answer these two questions through the
following observations.
The MOOC explores Chinese philosophy while raising
controversial issues about beliefs and hypothetical scenarios.
Interestingly, some of the learners within the course were
philosophy instructors themselves. This made for some very
animated discussions within the forum that linked with content
way beyond the course, as shown in Fig. 4.
Fig. 3. Weekly roundup video, produced in a short turn-around time.
The course instructor became more engaged as he became
more familiar with navigating the MOOC platform, with text
responses and video responses as shown in Fig. 3. Maybe it was
his easygoing nature and positive attitude towards connecting
with the learners that really sustained engagement in the forum.
Forums were the only direct contact learners have with the
course team. Discussions and threads tended to be open-ended,
which allowed conversations to flow between learners. Rather
than simply asking only factual questions, the course materials
provided learners with several philosophical viewpoints. The
key was how to solve a relationship problem based on a
particular philosopher's rhetoric. However, an important point to
note is that judging forum presence would be impractical for
learner assessment. If learners are forced to participate, the
quality of posts may suffer, and the course team would be
drowning by the sheer volume of responses to review.
Everything aside, what works best is to find the right topic to
spark discussion, something that learners care about, and yet
may have different opinions about.
IV. CONCLUSION
HKU has successfully delivered several MOOCs in the past.
Some lessons learned in the MOOC production process, in
particular, video production and forum management, have been
shared. New pedagogies, such as gamification, animation-
assisted illustrations, and professional co-learning, will be
introduced in future MOOCs, for enriching learning
experiences. We hope that we can continue to make the MOOC
learning experience informative, enlightening and enjoyable.
Fig. 4. Landscape of the discussion forum. Size of the vertex represents the
number of comments an user posted in the forum, in a radical scaling.
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Course Team
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Ph.D.
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Others
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... Generalmente estos cursos presentan una serie de pruebas y test después de la visualización de una vídeo-lección. Están basados en la adquisición de contenidos y se centran en un modelo de evaluación muy parecido a las clases tradicionales con unas pruebas estandarizadas (Lei, Yeung, Kwok, Lau y Ang, 2016;SCOPEO, 2013). ...
... Generalmente estos cursos presentan una serie de pruebas y test después de la visualización de una vídeo-lección. Están basados en la adquisición de contenidos y se centran en un modelo de evaluación muy parecido a las clases tradicionales con unas pruebas estandarizadas (Lei, Yeung, Kwok, Lau y Ang, 2016;SCOPEO, 2013). ...
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