Thursday, May 16, 2013

Open2Study Needs More Work

Open Universities Australia (OUA), are offering nine free on-line courses on their Open2Study page. Over the last few weeks I have been trying one of these:  Writing for the Web", but was unable to complete the course. Open2Study shows some promise, but the web interface needs to be greatly improved. Also an option for downloading content needs to be added

These courses looked appealing as they were only four weeks long each, much shorter than the full semester courses from other MOOC providers. The suggested study time is 2 to 4 hours per week, much less than a typical university course (about 12 hours a week) and much more manageable. .Also the courses were authored by an Australian organization, not a US one (and an organization with extensive experience in on-line education).

Unfortunately the start of the course coincided with my traveling in Asia. As a result I had intermittent Internet access and only limited time to study, with the Internet access not coinciding with the study time. This showed a fundamental flaw in the design of the course: I could not find a way to download the course materials for later study (I provide my students with an eBook). The course design assumed I would have a live Internet connection while I was studying.

Each topic in the course has a series of short videos. These videos have closed captions and an "interactive" transcript. What would have been more useful than the interactive transcript, would have been a workbook of notes, or even just a simple file with the text in it.

Each topic started with a quiz question. If I got the question wrong, I was told "Incorrect" and was offered a hint, but the hints seemed to consist of a video with no transcript, which was not a lot of use. If I got the question right I did not get anything to say it was right, the system just presented me another video, again with no transcript. As a result I did not know what was going on (I did not have enough bandwidth normally to play the videos).

So what happened was each week I would get a reminder by email from the system to say I had work to do. But that was about all I got. There did not seem to be an fostering of discussion between students and no prompts by email about the actual cruse content. As a result I was not motivated to actually look at the content in the rare moments when I had time to do so and also had a working Internet connection.

One peculiarity of the system is that I collected some "badges" along the way, even though I had not undertaken any of the course activities. I understand that these badges are supposed to be a lightweight way to motivate students. But if they accumulate badges not having done anything, that is going to confuse, rather than motivate.

The web interface for the course had some problems (which is a little ironic, as the course is about the web). I found I could display a list of modules for the course from "My Study Center". But I could not access any of the modules from this list. There was a button marked "Got to Classroom" which would take me to a video in the course. I never worked out which video it was taking me to. The interface does not highlight all the hypertext links and so I spent a considerable amount of time clicking on assorted text on the screen hoping that I could find the actual course content, but seemed to get stuck on this screen. In the end I concluded that either the course was locked away somewhere I could not find, or this was all there was. It was a very frustrating experience. Normally there would be some sort of forum where students would discuss the topic, but I never found this.

Back from my trip, with high speed Internet access I tried the last module of the course, with video. It worked reasonably well and I was able to get 100% in the last test. But it was now too late to go back and do the other modules.

As this course is assessed I worried that my lack of progress would count against me (I tutor in a OUA course and would not want this recorded against me as a "fail"). So I attempted to withdraw. This proved very difficult. After posting a question and waiting a week or so, I noticed at the bottom of the course page a message waiting for me from a staff member explaining that I needed to go to "my study center", select "actions" and click on "withdraw". Even this proved difficult, as clicking on "actions" moved the cursor to the top of the page. After a few attempts I found that if I first clicked on "actions" and then scrolled down the page, there was a pull down menu with "withdraw" on it.

I would have liked to post this as a suggestion to the OUA, but could not find anywhere on the Open2Study website for suggestions and no-post course feedback form.


Ren Atkins said...

Hi Tom, Thanks for this post, which was read with interest by us here at Open2Study. We've been incredibly grateful for the level of thoughtful feedback and suggestions that have been put forward since we launched in April, as these have allowed us to understand what is working well and also recognise potential improvements. Some of the points you mention are being actively worked on or are currently under consideration, including improvements to assessments, some of which will be ready for the next round of subjects starting 27 May. We have quite a few improvements and new features planned for the year in addition to many new subjects - so again I'd like to thank you for the post, as participant feedback really helps to keep us steering in the right direction.

Tom Worthington said...

Ren Atkins said May 22, 2013 10:25 AM:

>Hi Tom, Thanks for this post, which was read with interest by us here at Open2Study...

Thanks, the issue of access to on-line courses for those with limited Internet access is obviously an issue for all providers, not just Open2Study. The synchronized asynchronous technique I discussed in my paper at ICCSE 2013, I suggest can help. With this, course materials are designed so they can all be downloaded once in a batch, at the beginning when the student has broadband. They can then work through the materials off-line. The student then only needs limited access to post responses and check for updates. H.K.S. Premadasa in "Implementation of Concatenated Short Messaging Service in a Campus Environment", also at ICCSE 2013, suggested using SMS for student communication. This would work well for short student response and updates, where broadband is not available or prohibitively expensive.