Thursday, April 11, 2013

Identity Verification in the MOOC World. Not!

According to some, Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC) are the latest saviors in the financially strapped EDU world. The idea of having hundreds of thousands of students taking a university course at the same time is an exciting new frontier for higher education.  Just think of the financial gains an institution can achieve. Public universities have seen a dramatic decrease in their financial support from their respective state governments. Virginia Universities receive an average of 3-5% of their total budgets from the state. The money has to come from somewhere to support a growing student body. An income stream from hundreds of thousands of online students is enticing to cash strapped universities. State legislators see MOOCs as a way to continue financial support without raising taxes. After all, the money would come from tuition. There would be a saving cost in personnel, infrastructure and other high costs associated with universities. So, what’s the worry?

First of all, EDUs have been in the online class world for at least 15 years. Interactive Video Conference (IVC) methods have been around for a long time. For example, I started teaching an IVC course in 1999. It was in a special classroom equipped with TV cameras, microphones for the students and 2 way communications. If a student had a question, they pressed a button, their microphone would go live, the TV camera in their classroom would zoom in on them and 2 way conversations would happen.  This format is expensive and today’s generations of students don’t feel comfortable using this medium.  Social media  and a generational change have made MOOCs more popular. EDU faculty have experience in online learning. Learning Technologies (LT) is an growing and exciting field and well poised to address MOOC development.

JoAnn Paul from VA Tech states “Today's students often perceive electronic forms of interaction as LESS impersonal than face to face, traditional classroom settings, regardless of class size.  And why not? Students already work in distributed environments, and increasingly need to learn how best to communicate that way -- to get their point across -- and they know it.”

We need to collect data on MOOC popularity when the students have to a) pay for the courses b) take them for college credit. I suspect then enrollment numbers will be significantly lower. For introductory level courses, MOOCs make sense because they provide a vehicle for accessing large numbers of people.  More advanced courses don’t scale well. Where does an online student go to do Chemistry or Physics lab experiments? How does one replicate the lab facilities and equipment. But that's another issue.....

Apart from having curriculum designed by external entities, the biggest problem with MOOCs is a very basic yet critical issue: cheating.  
Laura Pappano’s NY Times article, “The Year of the MOOC” states  “Cheating is a reality. “We found groups of 20 people in a course submitting identical homework,” says David Patterson, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who teaches software engineering, in a tone of disbelief at such blatant copying; Udacity and edX now offer proctored exams.” Frankly, I’m surprised he was surprised about online cheating.

There are some fundamental questions that need to be answered before even attempting to incorporate MOOC style courses as credit for a degree.  
1. How do you verify the identity of the student who registers for the class?
2. How do you verify the identity of the person who submits assignments and takes exams?
3. How do you verify the person in #1 is the same person as the one in #2?

These questions need to be addressed before MOOCs can become a vehicle for furthering one's pursuit of a degree.