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Scaling-up a MOOC at a State University in a Cost-effective Manner

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Best of Computers in Education Division

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

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Paper Authors


Paul Morrow Nissenson California State Polytechnic University - Pomona

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Paul Nissenson (Ph.D. Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, University of California, Irvine, 2009) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He teaches courses in fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and numerical methods. Paul's research interests are studying the impact of technology in engineering education and computer modeling of atmospheric systems.

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Todd Dale Coburn P.E. California State Polytechnic University - Pomona

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Todd Coburn is an Assistant Professor of Aerospace/Mechanical Engineering at California State Polytechnic University Pomona, an FAA DER, and a stress/structures consultant. He joined Cal Poly Pomona in September of 2012 after a 25 year career at the Boeing Company and restarted his consulting work around that time. His work at Boeing included the structural analysis of aircraft and rockets. His last seven years at Boeing he managed the large and expanding commercial aircraft strength analysis team in Long Beach, California. He holds a PhD in Engineering & Applied Industrial Mathematics from Claremont Graduate University, MS degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics, and a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering. He is also a Registered Mechanical Engineer in California, and a Designated Engineering Representative (DER) for the FAA. He resides in California with his wife and three children.

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Education in the world is changing rapidly. Online course offerings are increasing at an exponential rate as universities attempt to meet the needs of a diverse global community of learners. Amidst this potpourri of online courses, massive open online courses (MOOCs) are emerging as an alternative way to educate a multifarious group of learners worldwide. Yet much remains to be learned about how to hone MOOCs into cost-effective tools that provide value without overly burdening a cost-sensitive public education system. This paper provides insight into the issue by reporting on the efforts of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona) to scale-up a MOOC from a small $8000 pilot project. The pilot MOOC was a 10-week introduction to computer programming course that took place during Spring 2014 and was open to everyone in the world for free. Over 2100 participants enrolled in the pilot MOOC with 16% successfully completing the course. Results from the pilot MOOC were reported in the Proceedings of the 2015 ASEE Annual Conference.

A scaled-up version of the pilot MOOC took place during Spring 2015 with the goals of increasing enrollment to over 10,000 participants and introducing cost-recovery measures while maintaining a similar budget as the pilot offering. The scaled-up MOOC was a huge success with over 11,600 participants enrolled in the course, a 16% passing rate, and recovery of about half of the costs through the sale of supplemental materials and donations. Participants who were still actively engaged in the course through Week 2 had a much higher passing rate of 55%. Additionally, surveys indicate that the MOOC enhanced participants’ opinion of Cal Poly Pomona and feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. The paper discusses the measures taken to effectively scale-up the pilot MOOC, and provides insights and lessons learned that can be used to improve other MOOC offerings. The authors give suggestions on how to attract potential learners, minimize and recover costs, improve passing rates, and respond to participants’ inquiries despite a seemingly overwhelming participant-to-instructor ratio.

Nissenson, P. M., & Coburn, T. D. (2016, June), Scaling-up a MOOC at a State University in a Cost-effective Manner Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26140

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