Monday 14 September 2015

#MOOC use in secondary school (k12) for non-native English/French speakers

The last couple of weeks I have been working on a project with a secondary school (GUSCO school in Kortrijk, Belgium). Which resulted in some first explorations, shared in a previous post when I was still looking for a sound method. By now the direction, three teachers and 42 students have launched a class (well, three classes, but one sort of class) in which they combine MOOC with CLIL (Content Language Integrated Learning). This means that all participating students are non-native English/French speakers (most of them speak Dutch, some have another mother tongue due to migration history), and they explore content provided in MOOCs on a voluntary basis to train their language skills and learn more about a topic of their interest.

Status of the project: today is the second class of this first year roll-out. The class takes up 2 hours per week throughout the academic year, lesson-plan is made (with room for adjustments throughout the year), instruments are active, teachers have been exploring MOOCs (continued professional development through autonomous action).

In tomorrow's post I will highlight some of the instruments used (still translating some), but listing them here:

  • an adapted scale for measuring skills and capacities, focusing on language and learning skills;
  • a logbook kept by the students to reflect upon their present week, and providing feedback; 
  • a self-regulated learning questionnaire to monitor self-esteem and motivation as the course moves along the academic year. 

While discussing this project, potential challenges came up, some of them felt more pressing then others. Here are three of the challenges and the responses those challenges (not necessarily evidence based at this point):

1- Will the target group of 16 - 17 year old's be capable of following and interacting in a MOOC?
When looking at secondary data coming from MOOCs that have been running, and focusing on those age ranges that participated in these MOOCs, there is a clear indication that 15 - 20 year old's are participating actively. Granted, many of those might be native English speakers (or natively speaking the language of the MOOC: Spanish, Chinese, Russian...), nevertheless non-native English speakers are also interacting, they do exist and as such that group is of interest. Furthermore that age group has been participating from early on in the MOOC roll-out. Additionally, in Belgium 8 out of 10 schools use online learning tools (e.g. Bingel, a learning platform provided by an book producer, and combining methods used in the books for learner activation outside of the classroom, either for remedial purposes or diversification. This means that in primary school those young pupils are already being exposed to online interactions, which makes MOOCs a potential next step once they move into secondary school. By then some of those options need to be researched for better understanding and guidance, to enable it to be embedded in school settings.
The first picture represents those MOOC participants that posted in MOOC forums (blue = full time occupied, red = not full time occupied). This demographic comes from a collection of Stanford MOOCs running on the Coursera platform in 2013. The second picture provides the age demographics of a more recent MOOCs from FutureLearn (from Simon Nelson presentation).

2 - What is the risk of those students becoming demotivated, and even loose their learning self-esteem by being exposed to following or at least interacting in a MOOC that might have content that is too complex for them at this moment in their lives?
On the issue of the content of MOOCs being too difficult. Will the average student aged 16-17 be able to complete complex assignments which are incorporated in MOOCs? My guess would be: no. But that is where the teachers come in. All three teachers are experienced language teachers, and they have a knack for for finding the Zone of Proximal Development that might just leverage the knowledge of the students that is existing in their mind to the level needed to understand (a selection) of the MOOC content. This does of course reflect in the type of grading that can or cannot be done: in this project the students will be graded on daring to speak and interact, on going through some of the MOOC content, and interacting with peers in class and in the MOOC. In a way these grades will be more generic, then content-related.
But, it is fair to say that the student motivation and self-esteem must be monitored in this case (or in any type of new class). In order to see what the impact is of each MOOC-CLIL phase (a groupMOOC phase - strong support from teachers and one MOOC is chosen for classical training in MOOC actions, a EigenMOOC (ownMOOC) phase, where small groups of students choose which MOOC they want to follow, Evaluation phase: where students produce an introduction about the class for next years students). In order to monitor the effect on student learning, a questionnaire is provided to the learners. That questionnaire looks at their self-regulated learning capacities, and monitors their motivation (extrinsic, intrinsic) and their learning self-esteem (questionnaire consists of 50 questions). By monitoring motivation and self-esteem before the full course, after the groupMOOC phase, and at the end of the OwnMOOC, we hope to get a picture of the impact of the course on the actual learning process.

3 - The fact that Content and Language Integrated Learning is combined with MOOCs that are selected by the pupils, how does this relate to the Content factor mentioned in CLIL? 
It is true that CLIL by definition demands a fair focus on content, as the language is learned via content related context. Nevertheless, we think that by letting the students select which MOOC they want to follow, they will inevitably choose a type of content that is of interest to them (more motivated?). This will (we assume) make that content more relevant for their future interests/work/plans as well, and thus the uptake of the language will be more intense. The fact that they choose which content to follow also relates to a more learner-centered approach, which is applauded at this moment in educational history (and by myself personal, as learning is personal).