MOOCs in the Classroom

MOOCs in Class Rebecca Griffths

In the Ithaka S+R publication MOOCs In The Classroom?, Rebecca Griffiths asks many important questions. While the collegiate market is an interesting Petridish (pun intended) for economies of scale experiments, this post will argue that K12 would be an even better place. The K12 education market is made up of over 3,000,000 students in the US, who must typically endure 6 hours of instruction per day for 180 school days to move up to the next grade level. In most cases, these students are mandated by compulsory attendance laws and are required to be in school until they are 18 years old.

A typical first generation MOOC was a mix of multi-media, self-graded assessments, discussion board postings, and peer review. Faculty members developing 2.0 MOOCs have come up with innovative ways to improve them. Some will test whether they can “flip” their courses without having to create lecture videos themselves. Other instructors will weave the critical thinking focus of their courses in via seemingly unrelated subject matter. For instance, a program for incoming college freshman uses social networking activities to improve students’ personal health habits while “teaching” a class called Health in America.

All of education could benefit from discovering the cure for Baumol’s disease, when institutional costs rise annually without commensurate increases in output, or productivity. This phenomenon was named after economist William Baumol, who observed productivity in labor-intensive services lagged manufacturing, because labor-intensive services cannot cut staffing without reducing output, and compensation costs constantly rise (Hill and Roza, 2010).

The K12 arena provides a more robust experimental setting, because unlike the collegiate market, K12 students are not directly paying for their own education. Hence, it stands to reason that these students may be even less motivated than college students. Therefore, if MOOCs can be used to engage K12 students and factors can be discovered that help them persist until course completion, this could substantially benefit all of education.

Is anyone researching whether MOOCs can be used to improve outcomes, or reduce the costs of teaching students in middle and high schools? We know from research that hybrid course formats have the potential to improve student outcomes and reduce costs. Yet MOOCs only seem to benefit students with healthy amounts of intrinsic motivation (Bok). How much scaffolding and encouragement from face-to- face instructional coaches would online courses need to yield better outcomes? Maybe 2.0 MOOCs will be better able to improve the college readiness of students struggling in mediocre high schools? Conversely, perhaps the costs of adding high touch personalization elements will destroy the cost efficiencies inherent in the MOOC model?

These are questions I would like to learn the answers to, however, the major MOOC players are preoccupied with finding profitability and answering to investors. Perhaps when the dust settles and the principal players (, CourseBuilder, Coursera, CourseSites, EdX,, P2PU,, Udemy, and Udacity) have all conceded to a merger, we will be ready for some experimentation in the K12 market.


Bok, D. (2013). Higher Education in America, Princeton University Press. New Jersey.

Griffiths, R. (2013). MOOCS in the classroom? Ithaka S+R. October 28, 2013.

Kelly, A. (2014). Disrupter, distractor, or what? A policymaker’s guide to Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCS). Bellwether Education Partners. Accessed on May 29, 2014 at

Hill, P., and Roza, M. (2010). Curing Baumol’s disease: In search of productivity gains in K–12 schooling. Center on Reinventing Public Education. University of Washington Bothell. Seattle, WA.’s-disease-search-productivity-gains-k–12-schooling

#MOOC Who are my students?


To date over 200 students have signed up for our MOOC. The numbers are increasing at a rate of 10-20 students per day. This would give us an audience of 1,500 students by the time the course launches, however, additional promotion from the course instructors and the Canvas Network may increase course enrollment by thousands more. Who are these students? How should we prepare to teach them?

According to Swope (2013) MOOC student enrollment has risen from 1 million in 2012 to over 10 million in 2013, however, reports in the media have largely concentrated on MOOC completion rates, which have been as low as 5-10%. Do low completion rates signal a death knell for the MOOC as an educational innovation? Regardless, we intend to proceed and offer our class to thousands of teachers who want to improve teacher and student relationships. Toward that end, we will offer a review of modern learning and education psychology theories, then give teachers an opportunity to practice with three relationship-building curricula within a caring, online community.

Chernova (2013) reported on a Canvas Network study of MOOC students who were characterized as older students, with advanced degrees, participating because they are curious about the subject matter, and motivated by the courses’ being free of charge. This survey of 1,800 students defined highly-engaged students, as “those who completed several MOOCs”. Of these MOOCers, 55% had a master’s degree or higher. Age-wise, 74% of the highly engaged students were 24-53 years old. Also, 63% were female.

In the fall of 2013, UW‐Madison offered four MOOCs on Coursera. Huhn (2013) reported the average age of participants was 34 with twenty‐eight percent (28%) under age 26. Almost three-quarters (74%) of the participants had a bachelors degree or higher. Only 9% had a high school education or less. Approximately half were employed full time and sixteen percent were part-time workers. Thirteen percent (13%) were unemployed (not working but looking for work), 16% were not working by choice (retired, staying home with young children, on leave from work, or unemployed and not looking for work). Only one quarter (23%) were from the United States. An additional quarter were from Brazil, India, United Kingdom, Spain, or Canada. Overall, 19 different countries had 100 or more participants. There was at least one participant from each state. In the US, three states (California, New York, and Texas) each had 100 or more participants.

Jeffrey Pomerantz has blogged extensively about his Medadata students. In total, 27,623 students were active after week one. Of that number, 1,418 earned Certificates of Accomplishment. Incidentally, this is roughly the same number of students that he has taught over his entire career. Using those figures, Dr. Pomerantz would have the same 95% non-completion rates as most MOOCs, however, he proposes defining of the total number of students who completed the Unit 1 homework assignment (2,938) as “active students”, because they have demonstrated an intent to complete the course. Since
1,418 of these students completed the course; his MOOC completion rate should be calculated as 48%. Clearly new thinking is needed when it comes to evaluating the educational outcomes of MOOCs. I’m just excited to teach one.


Chernova, Y. (2013). Accessed on June 25, 2014 at

Huhn, C. (2013). UW‐Madison massive open online courses (MOOCs): Preliminary participant demographics. Academic Planning and Institutional Research, Office of the Provost, August 15, 2013. Accessed on June 27, 2014 at

Pomerantz, J. (2013). Data about the Medadata MOOC. Accessed on June 27, 2014 at

Swope, J. (2013). Accessed on June 26, 2014 at

Sharing Blended Learning Outcomes


As I continue to evolve as a blended learning educator, I decided to try and measure some of the effects of blended learning with my students. In a previous article, I documented how incorporating blended learning assignments into my traditional classroom raised my course passage rate. In this piece, I compare student performance along two, 10-week periods. The first was predominantly blended, or 1:1 iPad-based instruction, the second was predominately textbook-centric, or traditional paper and pencil-based instruction.


Armed with a proliferation of digital instructional resources, broadband, and inexpensive devices, many educators are combining online instruction with regular classroom instruction to improve students’ learning experiences. Staker and Horn (2011) classify blended learning as a formal education program where students learn, at least in part, through online delivery of content and instruction. Students have some level of control over time, place, path, and/or pace of instruction. Part or all of the instruction is delivered away from home in a supervised, brick-and-mortar location. This blending of online and face-to-face instruction is expected to be standard practice in in the future (Murphy, Snow, Mislevy, et al., 2014). The purpose of this article is to inspire conversation as to how educators can evaluate whether or not blended learning actually improves student outcomes in their classrooms. What variables should be examined? Can quasi-experimental studies be set up as action research projects without disrupting the classroom?

It was in this spirit, that I compared my blended classroom to my traditional classroom along four factors: (a) classwork completion; (b) homework completion; (c) assessment scores; and (d) course averages. Five random samples of classwork, homework, and assessments were analyzed for each 10-week period.

Table 1 (N=127) Blended Classroom Traditional Classroom
Classwork Completion Percentage 0.77 0.70
Homework Completion Percentage 0.71 0.63
Assessment Means 50.355 52.565
Course Averages 64.85 67.42

Students in this sample completed more of the blended classwork assignments. Students also completed more of the blended homework assignments. Assessment scores were similar, however, traditional instruction netted slightly higher means. Course averages were also similar, yet traditional classroom instruction had a slightly larger mean. Again, it should be noted that this was not a true empirical study. The sample size was not large enough to be generalizable. Further, I am not sure what the finding of higher engagement and participation, yet lower achievement signifies, but I will spend time reflecting on it.

Again, the purpose of this article was to provide educators switching from the traditional classroom role to a blended role with some data points for comparing their experiences. The results may not be as valid as those from a large scale study, however, as more 1:1 educators compare their student outcomes, we will learn what outcomes to expect and gather valuable context to evaluate which practices are the most effective. In order to do that, we need front line teachers to document their practices, collect data, and disseminate it. Educational journals will not publish this work, but we can share it in the blogosphere and the Twitterverse. Heck, I sure some teachers will even Snapchat this.


In conclusion, I will say that teaching with the iPads was novel, challenging, and frustrating at times, but best of all it was fun. My students loved using them and I enjoyed experimenting with them. Students read more, wrote more, viewed more historical content, and took more field trips to historical sites (even if they were virtual trips). In short, the iPads turned my classroom into a student-centered, active learning, historical thinking adventure. The entire experience rejuvenated my teaching. I can’t wait for the next school year. I suppose that’s a significant enough outcome for me.


Phoning Parents Part 2

Hello Everyone. I am, Dr. Scott Petri, your instructor for Improving Teacher and Student Relationships. Welcome to the second lecture on improving teacher and parent communication. Thank you to the great people at Match Education for this great book Phoning Parents by Michael Goldstein. It’s cheaper than a Venti at Starbucks. Go get it.

This video will explain the six types of phone calls the book advocates making. If you read the study by Matt Kraft on the website, you know making proactive calls to parents created stronger teacher-student relationships, improved parental involvement, and increased student motivation.

The book recommends making this systemic behavior, investing 30 minutes a day in making parent phone calls. These calls should be no longer than 5 minutes each, which means you can make 6 calls per day, 36 calls a week. If you have 180 students, it will take 5 weeks to call every parent.

The six reasons for making these phone calls are: Shows courtesy and respect to both student and parent; You know parent got the message because you hear them saying uh-huh and what? Phone call communication is 1 to 1; Provide parents with more detailed information about their child’s progress and behavior than progress reports or dailies; Teacher can provide specific advice to the parent; and Increases student interest and investment in learning.

The Praise Call
Teacher describes a positive choice or goal met by the child
Breaks the negative cycle for struggling students
Praise must be specific and detailed
Focus on effort, choices, and accomplishments

The Correction Call
Describes something the student needs to improve
Helps student and parent understand what improvement looks like
Discuss and decide next steps for beginning the process of improvement

The Check In Call
See how student is doing with classwork and homework
Speak to student before parent
You didn’t finish your work in class today, what was the problem?
Recap purpose of call with parent

Text Messaging
Can be praise or reminders
Don’t use texting for corrections or concerns – call instead
Be careful not to automate, or you risk losing the personal bond in the relationship
Services like, or Remind 101 can help personalize batch messages.

Texting is the most popular form of communicating for teenagers. 87% of high school seniors text every day, whereas only 61% of them use Facebook daily. This may not be the medium of choice for parents, so ask what they prefer.

The Summit
An emergency in-person meeting with student and parent present
Create a plan to help student
Be warm, but unapologetic about your high expectations
Make parent your partner

I hope you will consider investing some time in making proactive phone calls to increase your students’ engagement this year. Be sure to check out the additional resources and supplementary videos I’ve put on the blog under the tag phoning parents.

Teacher-Parent Phone Calls

Simply put, the effects of good teacher-parent communication are HUGE!   At the end of the school year, I finished a MOOC about Coaching Teachers and the instructors of that class mentioned an inexpensive book ($5.36 on Amazon) called Phoning Parents: High Leverage Moves to Transform Your Classroom and Restore Your Sanity by Michael Goldstein. The book is only 78 pages. It is a quick read with a lot of great advice.

I love the following quote: “Charlie was a successful educator for many reasons. But none was greater in his mind than his ability and willingness to build relationships with the parents of his students” (p. 11). Then there is some great data:

  • Teacher-parent communication increased homework completion rates by 42%.
  • Teacher-parent communication reduced the time spent redirecting students by 25%.
  • Teacher-parent communication increased students raising their hands by 49%.

This really aligns nicely with The Search Institute’s new Developmental Relationship Framework — not to mention The Fish Philosophy and Tribes community building curricula. I am always interested in hearing from teachers about tools and techniques that help build positive relationships in classrooms.

The book is augmented by a study conducted by Harvard economists who attempted to measure the effects of increased teacher-parent communication. The study found that frequent teacher-parent communication immediately increased student engagement as measured by homework completion rates, on-task behavior, and class participation.

On average, teacher-family communication increased the odds that students completed their homework by 40%, decreased instances in which teachers had to redirect students’ attention to the task at hand by 25%, and increased class participation rates by 15%. Further, the authors report that the 30 minute per day systemic behavior of teachers calling parents created stronger teacher-student relationships, improved parental involvement, and increased student motivation.

What if your students were asked: What teacher (current or past) pushes you to do your very best?” Would they name you? If you invest out of class time advancing a message of high expectations, by praising hard work and good choices, and by confronting them on the little things when they happen, you’ll be one of those positive teachers that kids credit for pushing them. Match recommends spending three hours per week making proactive phone calls will pay large dividends in better student effort and behavior and a better connection between you and the student. I plan to spend 15 minutes from each conference period and 15 minutes in the evening making these phone calls. The extra half hour can be made up over the weekend. Sunday nights are always a good time to reach parents at home.


The Developmental Relationships Framework

My wonderful Principal, Suzanne Blake, was emphatic that I include the 40 Developmental Assets when I told her I would be teaching Improving Teacher and Student Relationships. She had many stories about opening up a brand new middle school that embraced this work. She raved about how easy it was to establish a school culture when all of the teachers were on the same page about the importance of increasing the assets of their students.  Since, then I have read much of the literature from the Search Institute and wholeheartedly agree that this framework deserves inclusion in this course.

The teacher-student connection does not merely contribute to or enhance teaching and learning; this relationship is the very medium through which successful teaching and learning is carried out (Reichert & Hawley, 2014).  More importantly, we believe that the characteristics described in successful teacher student relationships can be developed. Teachers who effectively establish positive relationships with their students are characterized by: reaching out, often beyond standard classroom protocols, to locate and meet particular student needs; locating and responding to students’ individual interests and talents; sharing common interests and talents; sharing common characteristics, such as ethnicity, faith, and learning approaches; being willing, when appropriate, to disclose personal experiences; being willing to accommodate a measure of opposition; and being willing to reveal some degree of personal vulnerability.

The goal of the course is to give teachers a caring and collaborative environment to practice new skills that they wish to incorporate in their class.  Toward that goal, how do we help teachers develop growth mindsets about improving their relationships with students? For more information and resources go to:


Our universities could help student writing and improve college readiness, if they stopped asking for personal essays as an admissions requirement and instead asked for graded academic writing – a research report, an English or history paper.

I paraphrase Robert Pondiscio’s call to arms on the East Coast centric Fordham Institute blog.  It is a piece I wish my students would read. Joanne Jacobs links it to an Atlantic article on oversharing to get into college. It makes me wish I had spent some time as an Ivy League admissions counselor, so I could get into the market for $14,000 four-day college-app cram camps. For the most part, I wish my students would write more than one draft of their college application essays. Most of my students do not understand the art of writing as an iterative process.  This year, I added a revision memo as a metacognitive reflection tool into my final research paper expectations. Unfortunately very few of my tenth grade students were willing to reflect on what improvements they need to incorporate into their academic writing. Would parents would demand an increased emphasis on academic writing in high school, if this were to become a de facto Ivy League admissions policy?

Social Studies teachers need to increase writing assignments under Common Core, yet many are afraid of increasing their workloads. Peer review can transfer the feedback loop from teachers to students. Peer review programs give students additional practice in developing the skills necessary to recognize effective thesis statements, use textual evidence, and refine arguments. Learning by evaluation protocols can systemically improve students’ self-assessment abilities and provide data for improving Social Studies writing instruction.  Teachers can increase the use of writing-from-sources tasks, which integrate reading and writing (DBQs) by using free technology (Edmodo) to display anchor papers and exemplars. Further, all teachers should train students how to evaluate academic writing within their discipline.  Students can learn how to increase their inter rater reliability and validate peer-review rubrics using Google Forms.

A Path to 21st Century Proficiency

Many schools are struggling to answer questions about Blended Learning.  What does it look like in practice? How does it redefine the role of the teacher? What will administrators see when they walk in with their effective teaching rubrics?

Many educators posit that blended learning paired with project-based learning will engage students and put them on a path to 21st century proficiency. is pioneering project-based courses and pairing students with real world experts and mentors in what looks like a very promising model.

USC Hybrid High opened a charter school for at risk students with a very student-centric vision. They would be open seven days a week and at least 12 hours per day, students could check in with a teacher, but students would chart the course for their own learning. Two years later, they are rethinking their model. By some accounts, the first year was a learning experience.  See this Edsurge report. Another recent article in Educationnext implies that increased teacher autonomy may work against innovation in top-down, whole-school redesigns.

It has been my experience that blended classrooms can be powerful places for teaching and learning. One of the biggest transformations for me has been the shift from content dispenser to application monitor.  My students have to take the information they are learning and turn it into something relevant that can be shared with a real world audience. Instead of lecturing, I have 3-5 minute mini-checkins with each student during class as they work to complete a large-scale project.  I answer questions, give them resources, but mostly prod them to work a little faster, because this shift is very difficult for students who are used to worksheets and fill in the bubble tests.

At the end of this school year, I assigned a Vietnam Veteran Interview project as a culminating task for my Vietnam War unit. Parental permission was sought for the project. Students were guided through developing interview questions, which they drafted and revised until they had 20 questions that coalesced into a well thought out conversation. Inappropriate questions like “how many people did you kill?” were vetoed. Students were given a sample transcript and access to several videos featuring Vietnam Veteran interviews. They wrote phone scripts and practiced interviewing each other. They were shown how to keep phone logs with the dates and numbers of the Veterans organizations they contacted. Students who would incur long distance phone charges were allowed to come to class at lunch and use my phone.

Many students finished this project well ahead of the deadline. They submitted six artifacts for full credit: their original interview questions, plus revisions, notes and/or a recording of the interview, a typed transcript, a one page reflection on the assignment, and a phone log. Their work demonstrated a sensitivity and maturity that made me proud. Some of the recordings captured genuine moments of mutual understanding and appreciation between the student and the veteran that transcended my expectations. These students internalized the relevance of this project and documented a visceral, first-hand experience with someone who had served their country. These students became historians.