Asee peer logo

Comparing Different Learning Activities in a Global Neuroscience MOOC

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

International Division Technical Session 5

Tagged Division


Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Casey Lynn Haney Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Casey Haney is an undergraduate student in junior year at Purdue University and a research assistant in Dr. Jennifer DeBoer's Lab as a part of the Purdue's INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering.

visit author page


S. Zahra Atiq Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

S. Zahra Atiq is a PhD student at the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, West Lafayette. Her research interests include: computer science education specifically on teaching computer programming to undergraduates and how to improve their learning experiences. She is also interested in understanding student behaviors and performance in online learning environments specifically MOOCs.

visit author page


Jennifer DeBoer Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

Jennifer DeBoer is currently Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Her research focuses on international education systems, individual and social development, technology use and STEM learning, and educational environments for diverse learners.

visit author page

author page

David Cox Harvard University

Download Paper |


A major criticism leveled at Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is the lack of hands-on learning opportunities. ABCx (identifying information removed) offered by X University counters this criticism by offering highly interactive virtual labs and Do It Yourself (DIY) lab experiment videos in addition to regular lecture videos, quizzes, and a discussion forum. The first cohort of this course in Fall 2013 attracted learners from 143 countries. As part of this course, a subset of learners (5163 out of total 24,112 enrolled) volunteered to participate in a Randomized Control Trial (RCT). Of this set of volunteers, the treatment group (185 learners) received lab kits on which they could perform experiments using neuroscience and electrical engineering principles. The aim of the RCT was to evaluate the impact of using at-home physical lab kits with the online course. In this on-going study, we have already performed quantitative and qualitative analysis to understand the learning behaviors and interaction with the course website of learners in the treatment group, which showed: 1) There was no significant bivariate correlation between the number of page views and student grades, and 2) There were numerous “outlier” students who had high interaction with the course website and either had a low grade or did not attempt the final exam (reference removed for blinding purposes). This study will investigate students of the control group.

As this course provides a variety of engaging learning opportunities to its students, we use Chi’s ICAP framework to generate our research question and to help us analyze our findings. This framework provides a hierarchical distinction between four types of learning activities: 1) INTERACTIVE activities support learners’ peer-to-peer co-construction of knowledge (e.g., interaction on discussion forums), 2) CONSTRUCTIVE learning activities require learners to interpret existing learning content and generate new knowledge (e.g., virtual lab experiments), 3) ACTIVE learning involves physical manipulation of learning material (e.g., manipulating controls of the video lecture questions), 4) PASSIVE learning activities do not require students to perform overt tasks (e.g., reading an e-textbook) (Chi, 2009; Chi & Wylie, 2014).

This work in progress focuses on understanding the learning behaviors and website interaction of learners in the control group (4798 learners) and the comparative differences between the findings of the control and treatment groups. The data sources we utilize for this study include pre- and post-course surveys, discussion forum and clickstream data. We use descriptive and inferential statistics to answer our research question(s). For learners of ABCx: are the interactive activities better than constructive activities? Are constructive activities better than active activities, and Are active activities better than passive activities? Further, we perform a comparative analysis to investigate the differences in learning patterns of students in the treatment and control group, while they use these four types of activities. This study has major implications for STEM MOOCs with lab components. Understanding how users benefit from different kinds of learning activities may help MOOC designers develop activities to support higher engagement and increased student learning outcomes via online learning environments.

Haney, C. L., & Atiq, S. Z., & DeBoer, J., & Cox, D. (2016, June), Comparing Different Learning Activities in a Global Neuroscience MOOC Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26525

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015