MOOCs for Research: The Case of the Indiana University Plagiarism Tutorials and Tests

Theodore Frick, Cesur Dagli, Indiana University Bloomington, Jul 01, 2016
Commentary by Stephen Downes

This paper was recommended as a "must read" by David Merrill. I don't agree. Essentially the paper describes a short self-study course revised according to Merrill's "first principles" of instruction, and the revision found to have improved outcomes, as measured by testing. The course, which was launched in 2002, has become popular over the years, reaching more than 10 million "web requests" last year (assuming this number filters for non-human traffic such as search engines, this is similar to the traffic receives). According to the authors, the large quantity of data collected allows them to generalize the results, thus confirming the first principles. I have a lot of issues with this paper, beginning with the author's suggestion that the course is a MOOC (if this is a MOOC, then so is my 1995 Guide to the Logical Fallacies). The account of MOOC itself is problematic - is a course really "a coherent academic engagement with a defined set of learning outcomes?” I'm not happy with the definition of "first principle" either as "a relationship that is always true under appropriate conditions, regardless of the methods or models used to implement the principle." And the methodology here is wrong - you can't generalize to anything on the basis of one course.

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