EMOOCs conference 2016: ‘MOOCs with a purpose’ and ‘MOOCs & language technology’

In one of the recent blogs on www.sooner.nu the EMOOCs 2016 conference was introduced and our workshop on ‘scalable feedback and assessment activities’. With well over 50 presentations, workshops and posters the EMOOCs2016 did present a good overview of the main topics of research on and experiences with MOOCs. The topics presented ranged from MOOC design, dropout, institutional policies to the use of videos and many more. If you are interested to know more, the proceedings of the EMOOCs 2016 are freely accessible and available online at: http://emoocs2016.eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/proceedings-emoocs2016.pdf.

Since there were too many interesting presentations to discuss all of them, I selected two presentations to introduce below. They raised my attention since they inspired beyond the paper presented. I hope this will raise your interest to read them and perhaps some other of the conference papers. The first one “Exploring learning objectives at scale through concept mapping of MOOC learner discussions” triggered because of its use of text mining. It applies Leximancer, software that automatically generates concept maps with the help of text mining. The second one “How MOOCs can be used as an instrument of scientific research” triggered my interest because the focus of research was reversed. The MOOC itself was not the topic of interest, rather how it was used as an instrument to support other research.

“Exploring learning objectives at scale through concept mapping of MOOC learner discussions” (Gallagher, & Savage, 2016, pp27-40). In MOOCs The large number of students and the limited teacher resources make it difficult to follow students and support them. Also to acquire a general indication whether learners align with the learning objectives of a MOOC is difficult. Gallagher and Savage explored the use of the text mining tool Leximancer to get a better understanding whether this tool is useful tool to study if learners align with the MOOC’s learning objectives. They investigated whether they aligned with emerging concepts captured with the help of Leximancer. It analysed over 60,000 comments divided over the 6 weeks of the course. The comments resulted from open comments to the resources provided and from fixed questions. Leximancer created a concept map out of them for each of the 6 weeks. The authors compared the concept maps with the learning objectives of the concerning week. In brief, the authors concluded that Leximancer could be used to explore learner comments in a large scale MOOC.
Given the amount of textual contributions in online environments– be it free exchanges or assignments –, this and other applications using language technologies are of clear importance to support research and tools that scale. Though most of us use language technology (knowingly or unknowingly) on a daily basis, the challenge is still to tune the use of language technology into applications that can be used in education.

“How MOOCs can be used as an instrument of scientific research” (Zimmermann, Kopp & Ebner, 2016, pp 393-400)
Well known to many of us interested in our environment are e.g. public bird counting initiatives (example: www.audubon.org/content/about-great-backyard-bird-count) which help to better understand research on how birds are doing and how to protect them. Alternatively, well known for those who are game-minded, there are the so-called ‘games with a purpose’ (see: www.cmu.edu/homepage/computing/2008/summer/games-with-a-purpose.shtml or www.cs.duke.edu/courses/cps296.3/spring07/ieee-gwap.pdf) which e.g. help to disambiguate the meaning of a word in a given context to improve automatic translations. In line with this Zimmermann, Kopp & Ebner propose to open up for a new avenue to use MOOCs i.e. as a research instrument. They use their MOOC to study how the use of internet to answer medical questions affects the doctor-patient relationship. The data to support their research includes general interaction data including forum contributions, and quizzes designed to assess the likelihood of potential diagnoses for a patient in the context of a case studied.
The use of MOOCs as an instrument to support research has – as the authors state – a lot of potential: the potentially large number of users, the simple and convenient way to collect data. Obviously, as with ‘games with a purpose’ and initiatives such public bird counting there are disadvantages too. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to consider possible applications.

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