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Understanding Student Experiences in a Blended-Learning MOOC: A Phenomenographic Study

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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

Works in Progress: Classroom Practice

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


S. Zahra Atiq Purdue University, West Lafayette

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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.

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Casey Lynn Haney Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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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.

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Jennifer Deboer Purdue University, West Lafayette

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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.

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David Cox Harvard University

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This work in progress phenomenographic study aims to understand the variation in student learning experiences in a blended learning MOOC. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) attract a diverse set of users with varying geographic, linguistic, social, and educational backgrounds. This diverse set of users interacts with the online platform in many different ways, and researchers have been striving to understand the various behavioral patterns of MOOC users. Most of this research is grounded in data mining and traditional statistics and does not uncover why students interact with the online learning environment the way they do. In an on-going study of a neuroscience MOOC, ABCx (identifying information removed), we previously performed initial quantitative analysis to describe the patterns of website interaction of MOOC users (references removed for blinding). This qualitative follow-up study aims to bridge the gap in previous studies and understand the different ways in which these users learn from and interact with MOOCs.

We study users who participated in the Fall 2013 offering of ABCx. As part of this course, a subset of students (185 learners) received at-home physical lab kits on which they could perform experiments using neuroscience and electrical engineering principles. The presence of physical lab kits created a type of blended learning experience for these MOOC users, as they interacted with the online learning environment and the physical lab kit. Like other MOOCs, ABCx learners also exhibit a high degree of diversity in their backgrounds and behaviors, which makes phenomenography a suitable methodology for this study. We investigate the following research questions: 1) What are student intentions and perceptions of the utility of engagement with online and offline components of this class? 2) How do students describe their learning behaviors while interacting with the online environment, and what reasoning do they give for these behaviors? 3) How are the students using the physical lab kits, and what is their realized experience interacting with the kits?

We conducted 20 semi-structured interviews via Skype with learners sampled from 42 countries using a pilot tested interview protocol. The semi-structured nature of the protocol ensured communicative validity of the study by introducing dialogue between the researcher and participant. Participants were recruited using stratified sampling based on two parameters (student final-exam grade and student level of interaction measured by number of pageviews). The interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and coded using a framework focusing on emergent themes around variation in blended user experience. To ensure anonymity, participants’ names were assigned pseudonyms, and to ensure security, audio files were stored on a secure computer. For reliability, two researchers coded and analyzed the transcripts, and the analysis was discussed amongst the research group. The coded themes were also sent to participants for member checking.

This study has key implications for STEM classes with lab components and may inform structural and pedagogical decisions for future MOOCs. Increased understanding of the rich student experiences interacting with lab kits may provide valuable insights to help MOOC designers develop effective at-home and remote lab activities, which could scale to virtual lab environments as well.

Atiq, S. Z., & Haney, C. L., & Deboer, J., & Cox, D. (2016, June), Understanding Student Experiences in a Blended-Learning MOOC: A Phenomenographic Study Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27102

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