Aside from maybe Champ, the fabled lake monster living in Lake Champlain, the word massive isn’t used to describe much in Vermont. That makes sense. We’re a small state, so things are typically done on a smaller scale around the Green Mountain State. And so as the rest of the nation and the world of academia are caught up on MOOCs (massive open online courses), CCV is approaching the task in Vermont fashion.
“Two years ago in the fall, Stanford put out the three initial MOOCs with a hundred thousand students in each of them,” said CCV’s dean of academic technology, Eric Sakai. “Here at CCV, we’re not interested in launching free online courses with hundreds of thousands of students in them. What we’re interested in is how that medium and how some of the tools and technologies used in them can be used for our purposes, which mostly centers around student access.”
That’s the rationale behind CCV’s new LOOC, or, little open online course. According to Sakai, the course functions much like the MOOCs available today—that is to say it will be free, all of the materials will be provided online at no cost to students, and it’s designed to accommodate however many folks choose to sign up. So how is it different? Well, because of Vermont’s small population, the expectation is that hundreds of thousands of people won’t be flocking to the course, so it likely won’t be massive. But then again…
“Frankly we don’t know what to expect,” Sakai said. “We’re actually prepared for large numbers of people. From a hardware and management standpoint, we can accommodate lots of students, thousands even.”
Numbers aside, Sakai said the expectation is that the five-week-long course, which will be available later this fall, will draw interest mostly from Vermonters as opposed to out-of-state students. Titled On the Hunt for the Perfect Job, the course covers key job-search related topics such as résumé writing, interviewing, networking, and career exploration.
“First and foremost, I think that this class will provide quick tips and useful insights for the job hunt from both the instructors of the course and from other participants,” said Kelly Strunk, a CCV academic coordinator and instructor in the course. “And the LOOC environment provides a great opportunity for networking, which is critical for anyone searching for job, and does so in a format that is flexible and engaging.”
From an academic point of view, Sakai said the MOOC model seems to be an effective method for obtaining a coherent body of information. In CCV’s LOOC, course materials in the form of pre-recorded video lectures, reading materials, and writing assignments will be available to students each week. Additionally, online discussion forums allow students to communicate and share ideas with each other and with the instructors. Participants can work through the material at their own pace and have the ability to use materials that target only the areas they feel they need to work through and disregard those that don’t. This, Sakai said, is quite a departure from traditional coursework in which students are expected to complete all assignments, and instructors have some level of knowledge as to whether that is happening. And while instructors may not ever know for sure exactly how much students are taking away, Sakai says the statistics on MOOCs do show that on average, only eight to ten percent of people who enroll in one actually complete the course. He does, however, question whether that’s a negative statistic.
“Maybe we need to look at things differently here,” says Sakai, who has headed up CCV’s online learning department for thirteen years. “Maybe what that means is that the ninety percent who started the MOOC got what they needed and then left. That’s one of the possibilities we have to be open to.”
Nonetheless, Sakai openly states he doesn’t see MOOCs threatening the validity of on-the-ground or online courses. Rather, he says, they should be looked upon as another resource for delivering knowledge to anyone who seeks it, and as a complement to existing models in academia.
“One of the ways MOOCs or LOOCs can be thought of is as a tool, or one of a number of building blocks,” he said. “So for example, if you take this LOOC and combine it with on-the-ground job search workshops, maybe you get to a population that can benefit from both the LOOC and the in-person training. In fact, MOOCs are already being used in conjunction with regular courses to create the so-called flipped classroom—a model in which students view pre-recorded lectures at home, so that in-person class time can be reserved for hands-on activities and problem solving.”
Strunk also noted that the model could be appealing to students who may not be ready for, or interested in, traditional classroom instruction.
“It’s a new way of connecting with others who share a common goal,” she said. “It’s free and it doesn’t require any special technological background.”
As for right now, though, Sakai says he isn’t looking too far beyond the launch of CCV’s LOOC. If all goes well, the College may offer more LOOCs in the future, but that’s not what’s driving Sakai or CCV.
“The most exciting part of this is the possibility that a lot of Vermonters might find benefit from it,” he said. “We’re excited about the possibility that someone might get back to us and say, ‘Thank you for offering that course—it helped me get the job that I wanted. I used what I learned in that course to get a job and to better myself.’”