Over the last few years, well known experts from top universities across the world have been offering online courses through platforms like Coursera and EdX. These courses clearly offer high quality instruction at very little (or  zero) cost. However, their use in providing quality education, particularly to students enrolled in some degree program, has been minimal in India. In this note, I am sharing some experience at IIIT-Delhi in how we leverage these for improving our education. I understand that IIIT-Delhi may be one of the few (only?) institutions in the country using these rich resource.

Online Courses for Credit

It became apparent to us that despite limitations in education in various institutions, students simple do not go and “learn from the best” using the free course – only a few dedicated students use them (and these are probably the ones that dont need much help anyway). It is now clear to most educationists that while enrolled in a degree programs, students are not able to go and use these courses for the sake of better learning, as they study largely for getting credits to count towards graduation.

The Academic Senate of IIIT-Delhi decided that the Institute must leverage the top-class courses being offered by globally renowned professors through these recognized platforms for augmenting our elective offerings, thereby making a wider variety of choices available to students for their elective courses. To enable this, the Senate added a provision for students to earn up to 8 credits  (equal to about 2 full load course) through approved online courses.

Interestingly, even after enabling regulation for earning credits, we did not find too many student takers. We realized that students were not able to plan suitably to incorporate these online courses in their program.

We then decided to structure this better and integrate it in our academic planning. This we did by identifying online courses that are being taught during our semester (i.e. those which started and ended within our semester), and then “offer” them to students like other regular courses of the Institute. That is, the students can register for them as part of their regular registration for the semester. We took inputs from students on which online courses to offer.

This worked. In previous two semesters we have offered 3 online courses each, and this semester we are offering about 8 courses. Courses vary from technology oriented to music appreciation. The enrollment in each course varies from a few to about 40.

Administering Online Courses

Administering online courses also required some thought. First, for assigning credits to an online course, we looked at the total estimated effort in each approved course and then assigned credits based on our internal guideline of how much effort is expected for a course. E.g. most 8-10 weeks duration courses are given 2 credits, as the estimated effort of about 50-60 hours is commensurate for the 2 credits course at IIIT-Delhi. Courses where the total effort is lesser than required, additional work in the form of case study or project was given. (A full course in IIIT-Delhi is for 4 credits, with an expected work load of about 10 hrs/week.)

A course in the Institute must have an Instructor, who is responsible for finally submitting the grades for the enrolled students. And it is the Instructor’s responsibility to ensure that Institute guidelines are being followed. For this, we did the following:

  • An Instructor is assigned for all the online courses being offered in the semester. For each course, an account is opened in the Learning Management System (we use a locally developed LMS – Backpack), through which announcements are made, and required submissions are done.
  • For each online course a TA is also assigned, who is required to enrol in the online course and do the course – this ensures that TA knows what is happening in the course, and can advise the instructor, and collect suitable data from the online course from enrolled students.
  • The TA connects with the enrolled students once every 2 weeks for a course to review progress of students. Each enrolled student submits a form to show that the student is “attending” lectures and doing the assignments. The TAs meet the Instructor regularly to brief about the progress of the courses.
  • For courses that do not have sufficient work, additional work (in form of case-study, assignment, project,…) may be assigned by the Instructor to ensure that there is sufficient load and learning for the credits.

Grading

The Senate decided that in these courses, as a full fledged assessment is not feasible, the grade will be S/X (satisfactory or unsatisfactory). Even for this, it was agreed that the Institute must do due diligence to ensure that students are learning.

With S or X grades, the problem of grading got simplified somewhat. For giving an S, the following criteria is used. A student gets an S grade if he/she: (1) has listened to all of the lectures, (ii) has done all the assignments, (iii) has taken all the exams and done well, (iv) has done any extra assignment assigned, and (v) when possible, get a certificate of completion from the online course (this will be useful for the student otherwise also).

To implement the above policy, the following is being done:

  • Attendance: This is checked by looking at record of student having submitted the non-graded quizzes given at the end of the lectures, or the in-lecture quizzes (or the “tick” that appears if a student attends a lecture). As this data is not always available, the student is also required to submit a short summary of the title of the lectures in each week, and a small description of what was covered.
  • Assignments : The online platform provides record of submission of assignments – this can be used. Students show the record of this to the TA.
  • Exams : The records for these are available from the online course – students are required to submit these to the TA.
  • Extra assignment: Easy to check as this is internal and outside the platform. Report or software or other form of deliverable is used to check.
  • Certificate: If a certificate of completion is provided by the online course, then the student has to submit it to the TA.

Experience So Far

Of the approximately 75 students who have completed these courses (another 100 are currently enrolled) only 1 has got an X grade. That is, not only have the rest completed the course, but have completed it reasonably well as ensured by the process described above. This is quite remarkable when compared to the completion rates generally published for such courses (less than 15%); even for paid courses/certificates the completion rates are significantly lesser.

The student feedback in these courses is positive and a vast majority feel that the course was “very useful” (score of 4 out of 5), and most felt that the course gave them an experience similar to or better than a regular course.

Students are quite excited about the possibility of doing these courses for credits as part of their program as it allows them a whole range of courses that are otherwise not available to them. We are also seeing a growth of non-discipline courses, which students take as “open elective” credits.

Some Challenges

The main challenge currently is that as we are offering these courses as part of our offerings for a semester, the online courses must be contained within the semester. I.e. the start date and end date should be within (approximately – we can adjust a little) the semester’s start and end date. This limits the set of courses that can be offered. The model of allowing a cohort to start a course as and when desired, and end after the specified duration, and still have all the assignments and assessments available, can relieve this. Similarly, self-paced courses, provided they have all the assignments and tests, can also relieve this problem.

We have found that to check our criteria for grading, records provided by the online courses often fall short. The focus of the course providers seem to be on certification – and efforts are being made to make them reliable. However, for use within schemes like ours, more than certification, some other records to capture students’ progress can be very helpful. I think they can be very easily incorporated in the platforms.  In particular, good records of students’ attendance can help (e.g. whether the student fully saw the lecture, how much time the student spent on each lecture,…). Improved records for assignments and tests/exams will also help. Finally, suggestions for assignments or projects for further/higher/enhanced learning can also help Institutes like ours, and students who want to go beyond the minimum.

 

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