Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

Research Questions About MOOCs

February 22nd, 2013 / in Uncategorized / by Shar Steed

In a Communications of the ACM blog post, Mark Guzdial raises some probing “Research Questions About MOOCs.” He points to recent articles that explore the impact of MOOCs, such as “Will MOOCs destroy academia?” by Moshe Vardi and “In the Year of Disruptive Education” by Paul Hyman, both published in CACM, and then offered his perspective as a computing education researcher:

What will be the impact of MOOCs on diversity in computing? Computing (encompassing computer science, information systems, information technology, computer engineering, and software engineering) is predominantly white or Asian and male.  The percentage of women in computing continues to decline.  Only 11.7% of Bachelor’s degrees in CS went to women in 2011.

Are MOOC discussions doing any good?  MOOCs use on-line discussion forums to replace in-class Q&A and discourse. We know that learning has a significant social aspect, and dialog facilitates learning.

How much learning is going on in MOOCs? The standard for measuring learning from an intervention is a pre-test and post-test, e.g., to compute normalized gains.  For example, we have been working on creating summer camps in Georgia that have significant improvements pre-test to post-test on CS content knowledge.


I don’t know of any studies of MOOCs that try to measure learning gains.  However, the demographic data suggests that the completers know quite a bit already when they start.  78% of the completers in edX’s first circuits course already had taken a circuits course.  30% of the completers in the Udacity CS101 course got perfect scores on the final exam.  In Tucker’s course, over 40% had their Master’s degrees and over 10% had PhD’s.  How much did these students really learn from the MOOC?


Click here to read the full article.

Note that CCC recently hosted a research visioning workshop on “Multidisciplinary Research in Online Education,” focused on illuminating a wide variety of research issues. Materials will be posted as they become available.

Research Questions About MOOCs