Google funds 'BOOC' assessment course by IU School of Education researcher

'Big Open Online Course' to help educators respond to new teacher evaluation policies

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Google has funded an associate professor in the Indiana University School of Education to develop a "Big Open Online Course," or BOOC. Daniel Hickey will offer a free course in September focused on educators and titled "Assessment Practices, Principles and Policies" for as many as 500 students, funded by a $50,000 Google grant.

Hickey intends for this BOOC to offer most of the advantages of a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, but with more interaction, while taking advantage of Google's new Coursebuilder course management system. "Google wants to know whether interactive online practices that are working well with 20 students can be scaled up," Hickey said.

Students who complete the BOOC will learn the practical skills needed to improve classroom student assessments while exploring assessment principles and new accountability policies. These topics are becoming more important to educators as states introduce new curriculum standards and achievement tests, while at the same time beginning to evaluate teachers according to short-term gains on those tests. Students who wish to take the course for graduate-level credit will be able to do so by completing additional course requirements, including a term paper based on the weekly assignments.

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies associate professor Cassandra Guarino will help design the parts of the new courses that examine new "value-added" teacher evaluation policies. Guarino is leading a federally funded study of the effectiveness of such policies.

"Most states are introducing these new models, so it's important for teachers to understand their strengths and weaknesses," Guarino noted. These new policies are widely expected to increase pressure on individual teachers to increase their students' achievement test scores.

"Many of us now believe that helping teachers improve their classroom assessments is an ideal way to boost achievement while also building knowledge that is more generally useful," Hickey said.

The BOOC builds on Hickey's existing courses designed to foster professional dialogue about complex issues regarding student assessment and school accountability. To do that, students in the BOOC will be organized into "professional networking groups" according to discipline, region and position. Students will interact around weekly "wikifolios," an innovation championed by Hickey.

Wikifolios use simple wikis to let students easily personalize, share and comment on weekly written assignments that are viewable by everyone in the class. By posting and discussing wikifolios and completing an online assessment, learners can earn three web-enabled "digital badges" that link back to evidence of that accomplishment. Learners who earn all three badges will earn a "State Assessment Professional" badge that summarizes their accomplishment and links back to the other three badges.

The award from Google will also allow the project to study how digital badges and other tools can support wikifolios and the threaded discussions that occur on them. Hickey and his team will study whether earners shared their badges over Facebook or email, and how much they might pay for an "official" badge where their accomplishment is more formally verified. The MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning initiative recently awarded $400,000 to Hickey to study the principles for using digital badges that emerged from the Badges for Lifelong Learning initiative funded by the MacArthur and Gates Foundations.

Finding new ways to support sophisticated learning in large online courses is a vital goal for universities, Hickey said. "These MOOCs are likely here to stay," he added. "As IU President McRobbie implied in his last State of the University address, there's a technology bubble in higher education right now. MOOCs and badges are in the middle of this bubble and the bubble is likely to burst. But schools that ignore these changes might end up looking like many of the retailers and publishers who ignored the Internet in the 1990s."

There is more information about the courses and a link to a mailing list. Hickey can be reached at and Guarino at