Models of Distance and Online Education

MOOCs, online courses, and blended courses

Both the general public and university personnel are interested in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). While many MOOCs are free, there are various models by which universities and businesses hope to monetize large online courses, including: (1) using MOOC materials in a flipped classroom (see next section) and having professors or teaching assistants interact with students in forums or in person, and (2) allowing students to earn a certificate or credit for a MOOC if they pay tuition. Some courses are fully online but might not be considered MOOCs because they require that students be enrolled at the university or because they serve smaller numbers of students. Blended courses offer some online components and some in-class components.

Three examples of established online physics course offerings were discussed. Michigan State University has a model with weekly homework assignments and fixed exam dates. Distance students take proctored exams, and faculty interact with students via email, chat rooms, and a help room on campus. At Arizona State University, professors develop courses based on the standard textbook by creating lecture videos. They interact with students through email, forums, and an online homework platform, and all tests are administered on-campus in a testing center. The Georgia Institute of Technology offers a blended course: MOOC students watch videos, read an online textbook, participate in discussion forums, and complete online labs to earn a certificate, while Georgia Tech students participate in additional on-campus activities, pay standard tuition, and earn Georgia Tech credits. 

Flipped classrooms
Distance Education Workshop

Flipped classrooms invert the learning activities used in traditional teaching by having students watch lectures or read before class and then participate in interactive learning activities during class. For example, during a typical flipped class, students might spend 80% of their time working problems in groups of two or three and 20% of their time listening to the professor explain key points.

Instructors use a variety of materials to prepare students for a flipped classroom, including textbooks and PDF documents, video lectures that the instructors create, openly-available instructional videos made by others, and multi-media textbooks. In order to motivate students to prepare for class, instructors use methods such as asking students to answer questions before they come to class or structuring the class so that students must prepare for class in order to learn effectively. Andy Rundquist of Hamline University, who teaches in a flipped classroom, explained that when his students arrive in the classroom, he expects them to understand vocabulary, why the day’s topic is important, and where to find resources to learn more. Flipped classrooms can result in increased grades in subsequent courses and increased scores on surveys measuring attitudes about learning science.