How to MOOCify

by Chris Friend

In Sean’s section of this course, he writes that Janine and I thought “the tools, techniques, approaches, and innovations that MOOC MOOC made possible could -- and should -- have a place in [our] on-ground courses.” After participating in the original MOOC MOOC and playing around with various ways thousands of people could work together on a single course, I was intrigued. Something about the distance and diversity added a richness to the conversation and camaraderie. As I reflected on what made the experience so distinctive, a few elements of MOOC course design stood out: collaboration, assessment, access, and distance. At first glance, these traits are monstrous. But when we bring them into our classrooms, they become wondrous because they are unexpected.

To get us talking today about how to MOOCify our on-ground courses, I’d like to look at each of these elements in turn. You'll see below that I failed in my MOOCification experiment. I hope to cast a critical gaze on what in this process can easily become problematic. Jon Beasley-Murray, in a Posthegemony blog post about
MOOCs in the Humanities, argues against “the shallow, decontextualized, and unthinking way” MOOCs have been discussed and adopted. MOOCification must be done deliberately. Let’s deliberate.


On the first day of the original MOOC MOOC, I, a Floridian, shared a conversation with a classmate from New Zealand. We thought most of the active participants in that course were college professors who were talking about how to use MOOCs in relation to their research, and because neither of us had PhDs or active research agendas, we felt a little out of place. But rather than making us feel isolated, that distinction helped us establish the first of many lasting, productive human connections I made in that course—connections that would quickly become the most beneficial and memorable aspect of the work we did that week.

These connections are one of the greatest strengths of the MOOC model: an open classroom allows students to connect with people and other resources that are unavailable in a traditional course in ways that are commonplace in modern life. Using familiar online tools to connect with outside resources means students are exploring and learning from the world, rather than a textbook. Looking outside the classroom helps real learning happen. The MOOC approach uses distance as an enhancement, encouraging both students and instructors to look outside their local environments to find inspiration, insight, content, and connections. Make sure you check out
Janine’s section of this course for more ideas about opening the classroom up to the outside world. Her experiment showcases how MOOC principles can connect on-ground classes with distant resources and allow students to reach a wide, authentic audience with their work.


This past spring semester, I tried a MOOCification experiment. Instead of focusing on the connective aspect of MOOCs, I focused on the assessment practices made necessary by the massive, open format: participants (being the largest available source of readers) assess one another and become a massive team of feedback providers. Thanks to a crazy travel schedule that kept me away from the classroom far too often, I decided to rely on students to assess their peers’ successful completion of assignments. In effect, I tried to outsource my grading. At least, that was the plan: Students would ensure everyone did work that was up to a passing standard. I would help them improve from there. That was the plan.

The plan failed.

My attempt to implement MOOC strategies showed me very vividly how poorly I prepared my students for effective peer review. In the past, I provided
detailed feedback on submitted drafts of each assignment. Left to their own devices, my students struggled to find appropriately high standards to hold themselves to, and they often lacked the vocabulary to say how a document could be improved or the sense of authority to claim that something should be changed.

By MOOCifying, I exposed the deficiency in my approach: I need to do a much better job teaching peer review. My students had too few tools at their disposal to be helpful, critical reviewers of one another’s work while they, too, were trying to negotiate assignments. Before I tried using the MOOC approach to feedback, I hadn’t seen so clearly where my students struggled. MOOCifying my course laid bare the assumptions I made about my students’ abilities. Not only will I re-evaluate my assessment practices, but I will also change how I teach to better prepare my students for effective peer review.

The Tools

We’ve come this far discussing how to MOOCify a course without a discussion of specific technologies or tools to include in a classroom. The omission was intentional: MOOCification is a pedagogical transformation, not a technological addition. Rather than think about what new application or website has more whiz-bang effect, we need to consider how our approaches to teaching can better adapt to a connected, collaborative world. In today’s MOOCathon, we’ve tried to use the LMS as the starting point, rather than as an encapsulation of the experience. We want you to explore the issues with a larger audience through Twitter conversations and other collaborations. What role, then, should an LMS play in a MOOCified course? How can we best balance the LMS, our in-class meetings, and any outside tools we employ through our projects? What questions should we ask ourselves about the technological tools we might use when we MOOCify?

Overall, what mindset or questions guide us as we MOOCify our courses? What is our goal, and what can we gain? Despite views on MOOCs casting them anywhere from redemptive to damnable, they make us question, if not outright change, our pedagogies. What questions do you ask thanks to MOOCification?

Some Additional Material to Explore

Dominik Lukeš, “Tools of Mass MOOCification
Chris Friend, “
Everting the Classroom” or “Breaking the University
Pete Rorabaugh, “
Hack the LMS
Sean Michael Morris, “
Beyond the LMS
Steve Kolowich, “
MOOC Students Who Got Offline Help Scored Higher, Study Finds