MOOC Spurs Higher Education Reform


Flipped classrooms also demand more from teachers than the conventional approach. They must condense a two-hour class into a few minutes, and also master multi-media technologies that succinctly present the course content online. Some teachers have designed games to help students grasp the flip learning mode. Ping-Cheng Yeh, associate professor at National Taiwan University, established Probability, the first Chinese course on Coursera. To attract students, he designed a multi-student social game intended to enhance the learning experience. It requires students to both raise and answer one another’s questions, similar to storming a fortress. The winner receives an Internet badge. Teachers need to make meticulous preparation for classroom discussions. They entail both answering and raising questions to encourage students to think more deeply about the subject. The ample time set aside for exchanges also makes it possible for teachers to instruct students according to their different characteristics via careful observation.

Flipped classrooms have thus changed the educational mode and also redefined the concept of “study.” It no longer denotes listening to teachers’ instructions and doing homework, but proactive thinking and discussion. It also extends the students’ role to a teaching context.

Explorations of Interactive Education

Succeeding via MOOC, however, requires much more than a strong will and desire to learn. Upon discovering MOOC, Chen Hangjie registered for five courses but completed none of them. Lack of time, the language barrier and, most important, a feeling of isolation, were the main reasons why. He found that the short duration of online exchanges with unfamiliar teachers and fellow students was no substitute for actual interpersonal communication.

Professor Yu also believes that MOOC interaction is far from perfect. Having used the same syllabus for flipped classrooms and the conventional classroom scenario, he was able to make relevant observations about the two teaching modes. He found that students in a real classroom who watched the same videos and did the same preparation held comparatively lively and edifying discussions. Those held online, however, were comparatively loose and random. “The nature of education lies in interaction, namely exchanges between teachers and students,” Yu concluded. He believes that MOOC, in applying Internet technologies to transform conventional education modes, effectively simulates a real university and provides a special zone for discussion. But in his view it cannot replace actual interpersonal communication.

Chen Hangjie got over his MOOC teething problems by establishing an MOOC study team on campus last October – the first offline MOOC team in China. It soon mustered 200 or more members, spread among such categories as human society, English, science and engineering. Members organize real clubs every two weeks in which to communicate and exchange problems and suggestions. Teachers are also invited to these discussions. Many freshmen have been encouraged to enroll for certain courses as a group, some of whom have finished and obtained certificates. Chen has set up a translation department that enlists volunteers to translate subtitles for English courses like Harvard’s ChinaX and Duke University’s Introduction to Astronomy, and a publicity department to popularize excellent courses.

MOOC College acts as a “warm” interactive platform for many non-student enrollees. At the end of 2012, MOOC students established an online study lounge at It later developed into the Guokr MOOC College, which has 50,000 participants. MOOC students on different courses exchange notes, discuss problems, and share suggestions. In 2013, they organized more than 50 offline activities. Some teachers even went to them for syllabus suggestions before establishing an online course.

Professor Yu is a proactive practitioner of online education. A couple of years ago he developed his own online course website, UUcampus, which is now being trialed in certain schools at Peking and Tsinghua universities. “The hot Coursera and edX is not the be-all and end-all of online education,” he said frankly. “Developing an online product with the best interactive function is what every university is striving towards.”

It seems that although MOOC is not the last word in online education, it has at least provided food for thought on conventional methods of high education. The online education mode, with its open and interactive features, makes it possible for people around the world to access the best higher education resources at low cost, and also makes possible personalized, lifelong study.

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