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Massive Open Learning in Political Science: The Case of the IPSAMOOCs

Sat, February 8, 8:00 to 9:30am, TBA


In the recent years, Political Science joined other disciplines that offer Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to audiences around the globe. However, the impact of the MOOCs on better understanding of political phenomena by their learners remains largely unclear. Taking into consideration the potential of Political Science MOOCs to offer topics of general interest and relevance to all individuals who participate in political processes as citizens, this research aims to fill in this gap in the field of Political Science education. Using edX, survey and focus group data, this paper explores the impact of an emerging global set of Political Science MOOCs: the International Political Science Association (IPSA) MOOCs. Because the IPSAMOOCs are run by an international university centre (Federica Weblearning) in collaboration with IPSA, and because they cover some basic areas of the discipline (comparative politics, political concepts, research methodology, democracy studies and international relations), they are particularly suitable to examine whether this form of disciplinary education can positively affect the understanding of and interest in political phenomena of those within and beyond the discipline. Unlike previous projects which were largely tied to a concrete university and had mostly regional impact, the IPSAMOOCs have a global potential as courses originated in the global north which have been adopted and adapted in developing countries as a systematic attempt to democratize education. The IPSAMOOCs’ 2017 transfer to the global edX platform further increased their potential relevance and global outreach. The paper breaks down the central question of the IPSAMOOCs’ impact to three sub-questions, investigating their capacity to (1) foster interdisciplinary conversation and engagement (measured through the involvement of learners with diverse disciplines and experiences), (2) enhance the understanding of political phenomena of learners with diverse characteristics and education levels and, relatedly, (3) overcome the barriers posed by unequal access to quality Political Science education (measured through the involvement of disadvantaged groups and gender and regional balance of learners). With the IPSAMOOCs being the largest global Political Science education project through MOOCs to date, these questions are critically important to understand the potential and limits of this initiative at the heart of which is a connected program of five courses on Introduction to Political Science, providing a first mapping of the IPSAMOOCs through a multi-method design. The statistical data provide insights on the demographics as well as the regional distribution of learners on the edX platform, and their engagement. Their conclusion about the diversity of various constituencies engaged in the IPSAMOOCs serves as a background for the survey and focus group design, with the first results of the latter being presented. The focus groups are based on the integration of a group of individuals in various roles in the project and the effort to actively and positively influence the impact of the MOOCs with the implementation of different strategies such as a diverse group of sponsored learners on a certificate track (so-called ‘IAPSS Class’) who provide feedback to their experience with the IPSAMOOCs. This approach can contribute to forming strategies on how to improve retention rates. The results of the research provide first recommendations for further development of the program, including areas such as increasing motivation and engagement. Finally, given the insufficient research on Political Science MOOCs, this study makes an important contribution to the discipline as it analyzes a particular, relatively new educational tool; as well as to the general literature on MOOCs since it analyzes a set of courses which directly pertain to the practical political life around the globe. This study observed, firstly, that, in the Political Science education field, the IPSAMOOCs play a complementary role to regular university education; however, they are not able to replace it. At the same time, they have a potential of bringing together learners from different backgrounds and study/research fields to Political Science, resulting in Political Science approaches and methodologies proliferating to other disciplines and encouraging interdisciplinary research. The findings, furthermore, confirm the necessity of sources of motivation to enhance engagement and keeping learners from dropping the courses. All in all, this paper fills in the gap in research of the Political Science MOOCs by providing a first picture of the composition and feedback from their learners. Further data obtained through the survey and additional focus groups will be important to corroborate the preliminary findings in this paper.