MOOCs in teacher education: institutional and pedagogical change?

November, 2018

Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 42:1, 65-81

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The study: a formative evaluation of a MOOC-like course addressing maths teachers in Norway

Data collection
The original study is a comprehensive formative evaluation of a MOOC-like course addressing 5th to 7th grade mathematics teachers in Norway (running from September 2015 to September 2016) commissioned by the Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education, a governmental agency.
This agency, in collaboration with two distinct HEIs and their teacher education departments, was in charge of the development of the particular MOOC.
To investigate a broad range of topics at both user level (teachers) and governance level (funding; higher education institutions’ cooperation with project leader), the researcher triangulated both quantitative and qualitative methods and data. Data collection included semi-structured interviews with teachers, school leaders, pupils and higher education staff (teachers, administrators and leaders), observational data of participating teachers in online study groups, document analyses (strategic documents) and a teacher survey.

Research context and data
This paper emphasizes findings based on semi-structured interviews with stakeholders, administrators and teachers within the two higher education institutions responsible for the course, along with semi-structured interviews with stakeholders from the government side.
Issues raised within the interviews included background for participation; internal organization and tasks; financial perspectives; collaboration within the institution and with the partner institution and the government; academic and administrative perspectives on pedagogical solutions within the MOOC and routines for knowledge sharing about the MOOC within the institution.
Interview data were coded and organized into subject areas as those listed above.
The interviews were conducted at several periods throughout the year.
This provided us with information on expectations and motivations in the start-up period and with information on developments throughout the year.

Data analysis
The researcher analysed the data from the interviews based on qualitative content analysis.
She developed several categories that emerged as relevant to this paper’s overall aims and scope, such as understandings of the concept MOOC; cross institutional collaboration, administration, pedagogical change and/or innovation.
During the later close reading process subcategories were identified, describing how the various groups of informants approached the topics, for example in positive or negative ways, or their mere considerations or interpretations of the actual topics. The process and the categories and the subcategories were validated by the research team involved in the overall study.

Findings and discussion: the challenges in the making of a MOOC
The author describes how expectations from the government were met by the institutions, along with expectations from the HEIs involved, and what were the challenges government and the institutions faced.
She has organized the findings into four main categories, ‘Concept confusion’; cross-institutional collaboration; administration of MOOC; and pedagogical change.

First challenge: what is a MOOC and how does mathematics MOOC relate to it?
The different understandings of the format of the course in the two institutions and the governmental agencies were most prominent in the start-up period of the pilot year.
The diverse perceptions of the format also caused misunderstandings related to the organization of the service.
The author interprets these diverse understandings and approaches of MOOCs in terms of different perspectives on how HEIs are organized into study programmes within distinct HEIs.
The governmental agency did not fully understand how the actual MOOC challenged existing structures within the HEIs.
The HEIs on their side strove to integrate the MOOC into their existing organization of study programmes.
The two HEIs thus revealed some resistance towards MOOC as a new format for teaching and learning in that they apparently preferred teaching and learning methods and formats familiar to them, such as conventional online courses or even campus-based teaching and learning. In this study, the academics within the two HEIs had some experiences with campus-based education and conventional online education, but not with MOOCs.
This might explain why they struggled with finding their way into how to cope with teaching and learning in this new format. Moreover, the governmental agency did not share these past experiences, and this influenced their approach towards the MOOC-concept, which were highly influenced by international trends.

Second challenge: cross-institutional collaboration with the involvement of a governmental agency
The author points out tensions that emerged between the two HEIs on one side, and the governmental body on the other side in the initial phase of the MOOC.
The two HEIs reported positively on their joint academic collaboration on developing and running the MOOC, but they were more uncertain about the value of the efforts made by the governmental agency.
The HEIs were challenged to work with new constellations and strove to find their way into it and so did the governmental agency.

Third challenge: administration of the MOOC
The parties involved experienced that several processes turned out to be far more time-consuming than anticipated, mainly due to various procedures, policies and practices related to administrative operations within the HEIs.
Through the interviews, the researcher identified several examples of administrative barriers that the staff faced.
One of the informants from HEI B suggests that the government agency demonstrated lack of knowledge ‘as regard our governance documents and regulations/requirements’.

The author notes that staff responsible for student administration face two types of challenges in cross-institutional collaboration and with the involvement of the governmental agency. 

Future development of new MOOCs and professional resources through cooperation between several institutions would benefit from the awareness of organizational slowness within the HEIs and the local administrative solutions within the HEIs involved.

Fourth challenge: pedagogical change
The author notes that both HEIs involved in this study report having plans to spread their expertise and experience from the course beyond the academic/mathematical communities within their departments. Informants from HEI A explicitly state that their strategy would be to exploit the knowledge they acquire about online teaching in education and the MOOC format in fields other than mathematics, and their institutional participation in developing and running this particular course has gained benefits for their teacher education.
In an international context, the author notes it may be questioned how ‘massive’ it would be to train 300 teachers online, but in the light of the number of potential students in this education segment in Norwegian schools, to involve about 300 teachers comprised a significant number of students. The MOOC is not open to everyone, but followed established rules for admission to higher education.
Moreover, the actual MOOC in Mathematics obtained less than 20 percent drop out, which means that more than 80 percent of students succeeded with accreditation from the study.

Discussion and conclusion

Based on empirical data from one year piloting a new MOOC as a joint project involving two HEIs and one governmental agency in Norway, the present paper explores in which ways this particular MOOC initiative/MOOC Mathematics enhanced change (organizational, including delivery models – and pedagogical) in the teacher education departments within the two participating HEIs.
The researcher found that even if the MOOC did not change the organization of departments or the HEIs involved, in terms of admission systems and regulations, it challenged the existing organization of delivery models into the MOOC format and the interpretation of online continuing education programmes.
As for pedagogical change, she found that the actual MOOC resulted in the departments being given the opportunity to explore new online assessment methods and online pedagogics as well as new ways of teaching and learning with technology in blended ways. Moreover, the academic staff involved reported this experience as important to their continuing work on improving assessments methods.
The actual MOOC thus enhanced pedagogical change, and to some extent succeeded with this type of change.
In this process, all the parties involved faced multiple challenges.
The author points out that this study might serve as a contribution to researchers and practitioners involved in development and running MOOCs as cross institutional initiatives, in that it addresses the diversity of challenges new study models are facing within HEIs. Furthermore, the author feels that the study may be of interest to teacher education departments responsible for continuing education programs for in-service teachers, since it demonstrates the opportunities that comes with a MOOC-like course, or a SPOC to provide larger groups of in-service teachers with new educational possibilities.

Updated: Sep. 12, 2019


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