Catching Up with English Composition MOOC Students: A Follow-Up Study

In Spring 2013 and Spring 2014, Duke offered a MOOC called “English Composition I: Achieving Excellence” taught by Professor Denise Comer.  One of Professor Comer’s goals in teaching the course was to offer a college-level introductory writing course that would teach practical skills students would be able to use in their academic or professional careers.  While students in both sessions of the course indicated in post-course surveys that they found the material useful, we really wanted to know how they were using the skills they learned.  We therefore recently sent a survey out to 985 students who had enrolled in both sessions of English Composition and who indicated on the post-course survey that they would be willing to be re-contacted.  Of those, 490 completed our survey.

About half the students indicated that English Composition was their first MOOC, but most had subsequently taken another MOOC from Duke.  Of the 490, 180 had taken only the English Composition course.  When we looked at how people had used the information they learned, we focused only on the students who had not enrolled in any other Duke MOOCs.  This is because the survey included students from other courses and asked them to answer thinking about their most recent MOOC.  By focusing on those who only enrolled in English Composition, we can be sure their answers only reflect that course.





As shown in the chart above, most students indicated that they did use the information they had learned in the course.  60% said they used what they learned in their careers, and 45% said they used the new knowledge in their daily lives.  37% said they used the material in a hobby or recreational activity, and 36% used the material in their educational career.  Compared to Duke MOOCs overall, students in English Composition were significantly more likely to say they had used what they learned in either their career or their education.

We also asked students to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about the MOOC they took from Duke.  While students were given a standard 5-point Likert scale for their response, we collapsed the categories of “strongly agree” and “agree” for reporting purposes.  The chart below shows the percent of students agreeing with each statement.




A total of 71% of students felt that they perform better in their jobs as a result of having taken English Composition, significantly more than across Duke’s MOOCs in general.  This highlights the practical nature of this course; students learned writing skills that were directly transferable to their professional lives.

A total of 75% of students indicated that they wanted to study the topic further.  This sentiment is reflected in the open-ended comments section.  Several students mentioned a desire to take another course or pursue their study of the topic further.  For example:

A total of 21% of students indicated that they changed their educational plans as a result of a Duke MOOC.  We note that people who experienced such a transformative change as a result of a MOOC are probably more likely to answer a survey about MOOC impacts.  Therefore, this should not be taken as a generalizable number.  However, purely from a numbers perspective, this means that over 100 students have changed their educational plans based on their MOOC experience.

The ways that people’s educational plans, and even their personal and professional lives, have changed as a result of the MOOC experience are very diverse.  Students reported impacts as varied as career promotions, second careers, applying to graduate school, and changing how they felt about themselves and their abilities.  Drawing on the open-ended prompt to “tell us anything else you’d like about the impact the MOOC had on your life”, students wrote:

“Taking the course – English Composition 1: Achieving Expertise, really brought my attention back to writing, a skill I had earlier abandoned due to lack of seriousness. However, I have since engaged in other writing classes to help in shaping this new and resuscitated career path amongst many other things I want to do now. And did I remember to say that I am now a contributor to an online information portal in my country – Nigeria. All because I took the course. I would say it has impacted me greatly!”

“I took the course because I wanted to become a better writer and therefore hone [my] writing skills. After having taken the course, I have found the courage to publish my first book.” 

“I took Dr. Denise Comer’s class entitled “English Composition I: Achieving Expertise. It was an excellent course. She was very cognizant of the course material and definitely challenged me because I was 64 years old when I took her class in 2013. I have always loved writing, especially essays, term papers, etc., in high school and college (Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia). After taking her class, I became interested in pursuing my lifelong dream to become a serious writer. The course definitely changed my future.”

In conclusion, our survey indicates that most students who enrolled in English Composition used the information they learned in both their professional and personal lives.  Students found the course to be a valuable experience, and many students wrote about new opportunities they gained as a result of having improved their writing abilities.