Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Meet the students - An interview with Jamie Morrison

Can Massive Open Online Courses be more valuable than traditional university education?
The Good MOOC interviews Jamie Morrison, a British student aiming to find the answer as part of his master thesis.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Jamie Morrison, I’m 22 and I’m from Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK. I’m currently studying for my masters in E-Business at Newcastle University. I completed my undergraduate course last year at the University of Sheffield in Business Management.
I’ve decided to write my dissertation on the topic of higher education, more specifically, whether free online education is able to rival the education and service that a student would typically receive on campus. In fact my working title is, “Higher Education in the Digital Age: Can Massive Open Online Courses Provide A Greater Level of Value than that of a Traditional University Education.”

  • Can you describe your research?

The underpinning theoretical concepts for my study are based around service dominant logic and the co-creation of value as detailed by, Vargo & Lusch (2004). Education relies on value to be co-created, students will only achieve their desired results from education if they are willing to participate in classes that are put on offer, likewise an academic will only gain a high pass rate of students if they are able to effectively engage in teaching their course.
In order for me to determine which platform of higher education is able to offer the greater degree of value to potential students, I decided to utilize a quantitative method of data collection. Being at university, I have access to students who could potentially let me gather information regarding the value of the traditional university experience. Unfortunately however, I do not personally know many people who have completed MOOCs, it therefore made sense for me to seek a convenience sample with regards to collecting data, which by the way, I am still in the process of doing. I’ve posted a brief description along with a link to my questionnaire in many a Facebook group.
So far the feedback has been astonishing, I have had submissions from people all across the world. The questionnaire itself is adapted from a measurement model devised by Cronin, Brady & Hult (2000) whereby, sacrifice, service quality performance, service value, satisfaction and behavioural intentions from both MOOC participants and students who have or are experiencing a traditional campus university education are measured on a nine point Likert type scale.
My aim is to compare the two results from both platforms to determine, from a student’s perspective, whether a MOOC can provide more value than that of a traditional University education.

  • Wouldn’t the perception of value be very subjective?

Not every student embarks on higher education for the same reasons. It may be for academic excellence, for personal development or to gain vocational skills for employment. Therefore I have to acknowledge that there are certain limitations in my study with differing perception of value.
What I do hope to achieve, by collecting a large enough sample is enough evidence to show a trend of opinion relating to each variable (monetary sacrifice, perception of support available on the course, etc.). In truth, this is already starting to emerge in the data I have collected so far.

  • Why did you decide to research MOOCs?

I found it fascinating how widely available this educational platform is. The quality of education on offer is astonishing. Anyone, anywhere can start a course from one of the most highly regarded universities in the world for free.
With the rising cost of education certainly in the US or in the UK, MOOCs have the potential to be disruptive.
What I wanted to know however, was if these courses were as good as they sound, to get a students view on the courses and draw a comparison with their on campus counterparts.

  • Have you completed a MOOC yourself?

I have signed up to Coursera just to experience how it works and see the discussion boards. I recently completed a online SAP certification with a German university. I have also downloaded a few courses from iTunes U, which I try to watch when I have some spare time.

  • What's your analysis of the current state of the online learning?

The whole online learning movement is still in its infancy. MOOCs have gained a huge amount of momentum in the past year or so.
Free online education appears to be at a point now where you can learn the equivalent of a campus degree from home. That’s exactly what Jonathan Haber is attempting with, “Degree of freedom”. His journey is also hugely relevant to my research; he is effectively testing out my hypothesis first hand.

  • Where do see higher education going in the medium to long-term future?

It can only get better. Initially there was that huge surge of people signing up to complete courses only for there to be a certification rate of under 10% on a lot of the courses. Once the numbers settle down a bit we might see some higher pass rates. To me though, the pass rates don’t matter so much. Students can start a course to see if it is for them or to see if its something they’re interested in. If it is, then great, they can complete the course, if not, then that’s fine because there is very little to no repercussion from signing up to a course that’s not right for them. Unlike choosing a university course, where if you make the wrong decision, you end up having to pay thousands of pounds to switch courses or you are stuck with something you don’t want to study.
Codecademy or any of the programming course for that matter are perfectly suited to learning online, with coding, you are either right or wrong, there is no subjectivity, which makes feedback and marking a lot easier and much more effective than say a MOOC on English literature. We will see a lot more developments in the free technical courses that are available. In essence, that’s what Duolingo has also done, they’ve removed the subjectivity of language, getting the user to type out the direct translation, making feedback very effective.  Their user interface is excellent. You can directly see your progress as you go along, this is something more courses should use.

  • There's a fair bit of MOOC skepticism out there... Do you have anything to say about that?

With any new technology there are going to be skeptics, the main area of debate when MOOCs first came to light was accreditation. From my research I can say so far; more people complete the courses for personal development and to just learn something new rather than for the academic achievement.
There were also questions raised about the peer review system that some courses employ, again, I suppose if the course was worth credits it would be something to worry about, but if you’re completing the course just to learn something new, for the scale that these courses operate on that kind of grading is sufficient.
I believe MOOCs to be at an early stage of their development, so hopefully in the future these problems can be ironed out.

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