Professional Development

Teachers Make Up Good Chunk of Online Open Course-Takers at Harvard, MIT

By Brenda Iasevoli — January 13, 2017 2 min read
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Teachers make up about one-third of participants in the massive open online courses offered by MIT and Harvard University, according to a new report by researchers at the two institutions.

The report is based on four years of data from the courses, known as MOOCs, on edX, a nonprofit provider of online classes for lifelong learners worldwide, which was started in 2012 by the two universities.

“Strong collaboration has enabled MIT and Harvard researchers to jointly examine nearly 30 million hours of online learner behavior and the growth of the MOOC space,” study co-author Isaac Chuang said in a statement. Chuang is an MIT senior associate dean of digital learning and a professor of physics, electrical engineering, and computer science.

The findings show that 32 percent of MOOC-takers said they work (or worked) as teachers. Nineteen percent of the teacher participants said they took a MOOC course—mainly in humanities, history, religion, design, and education—to learn more about topics they already teach.

MOOC courses provided by the school of education or that were explicitly targeted towards teachers, such as Data Wise, Education Policy, Education Technology, garnered more than 60 percent teacher participation, according to Harvard education professor Andrew Ho, the study’s co-author. Computer science and STEM courses saw the lowest percentages of teacher participants on average, but teacher enrollment was still above 20 percent.

Overall, 16 percent of teachers earned a certificate for the course they took, twice the rate of average MOOC participants.

“In higher education, we have long shared instructional resources by publishing books, textbooks, and articles,” Ho told Education Week. “Our study reveals considerable demand among educators for more diverse resources that MOOCs provide, [such as] lecture videos, lecture styles, assessments, forum topics, and labs.”

Past studies have also shown that a large percentage of teachers enroll in MOOCs. That’s why MOOCs are already entering the professional development arena. You can read here about Coursera’s foray into K-12 by partnering with teacher colleges and other institutions to offer ongoing professional development to educators.

The authors of a 2015 report on MIT MOOCs proposed that the online courses be used to revamp professional development. MOOCS, the authors suggested, could push professional development away from the one-day workshop model where all teachers, regardless of experience, grade level or subject area, get training on the same topics. Instead, teachers could take a MOOC to supplement knowledge in the content areas they actually teach. The report cites as further evidence for the need of training in specific subject areas a 2009 survey revealing that only 25 percent of high school physics teachers had been physics majors.

Of the recent report on Harvard and MIT MOOCs, Ho said, “We hope [the report] helps institutions, faculty, students, and the public learn more about these unprecedented global classrooms.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.