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Whose Experiences Do We Understand? Generalizability Considerations When Analyzing Data about Massive Open Online Courses Public Deposited

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  • Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have generated considerable excitement and considerable skepticism since their recent inception (e.g., Kim, 2014; Perna et al., 2014). By fall 2015, approximately 35 million people had participated in 4200 courses offered by over 550 institutions (Shah, 2015). In addition to MOOCs’ potential for expanding access to higher education offerings, scholars have touted their potential for facilitating research about online learning (Eichhorn & Matkin, 2016; Haywood, 2016). However, many questions remain about what participants are actually learning from MOOCs and how researchers can best make use of the huge amount of data the courses generate. In Fall 2014, Oregon State University launched its first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Supporting English Language Learners Under New Standards. Funded by the Oregon Department of Education and created in partnership with Stanford University, this course was designed to provide K-12 teachers with specific professional development on fostering English learners’ skills in argumentation, a key practice emphasized in new education standards. As we have worked to understand what participants learned from this MOOC, we have encountered methodological issues that likely impact a wide variety of research on MOOCs. Specifically, because many participants in our MOOC began but did not complete the course, analyzing data collected at the end of the course provides information about a potentially nonrepresentative sample of participants that likely does not generalize to the full group who started the course. After describing the generalizability issues that arose in our own research, we describe potential approaches for addressing these issues in MOOC research more broadly.
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  • Thompson, K. D., Rutherford-Quach, S., Rodriguez- Mojica, C., & Román, D. (2018). Whose experiences do we understand? Generalizability considerations when analyzing data about Massive Open Online Courses. White Paper. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit.
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