December 17, 2013, Volume 60, No. 17
Study Shows Few MOOCs Students Follow Through
Emerging data from a Penn GSE study show that massive open online courses (MOOCs) have relatively few active users, that user “engagement” falls off dramatically—especially after the first 1-2 weeks of a course—and that few users persist to the course end. Presented on December 5, 2013 by Laura Perna and Alan Ruby at the MOOC Research Initiative Conference in Texas, the findings are from the newly established Alliance for Higher Education & Democracy at Penn GSE.
The study analyzed the movement of a million users through 16 Coursera courses offered by the University of Pennsylvania from June 2012 to June 2013. The project aimed to identify key transition points for users—such as when users enter and leave courses—as well as when and how users participate in the courses. The study also considered how engagement and persistence vary based on various course characteristics.
The courses studied ranged widely in topic, target audience, length of study, instructional time, use of quizzes and assignment of homework and other dimensions. While a few courses were oriented toward college preparation (e.g. “Calculus: Single Variable”), most focused on occupational skills (e.g. “Cardiac Arrest, Resuscitation Science and Hypothermia”) or were geared toward personal enrichment (e.g. “Greek and Roman Mythology”). Researchers include Laura Perna, Alan Ruby, Robert Boruch, Nicole Wang, Janie Scull, Chad Evans and Seher Ahmad.
Emerging findings include:
• Course completion rates are very low, averaging 4% across all courses and ranging from 2% to 14% depending on the course and measurement of completion.
• Across the 16 courses, completion rates are somewhat higher, on average, for courses with lower workloads for students and fewer homework assignments (about 6% versus 2.5%).
• Variations in completion rates based on other course characteristics (e.g. course length, availability of live chat) were not statistically significant.
• The total number of individuals accessing a course varied considerably across courses, ranging from more than 110,000 for “Introduction to Operations Management” to about 13,000 for “Rationing and Allocating Scarce Medical Resources.”
•Across all courses, about half of those who registered viewed at least one lecture within their selected course. The share of registrants viewing at least one lecture ranged from a low of 27% for “Rationing and Allocating Scarce Medical Resources” to a high of 68% for “Fundamentals of Pharmacology.”
The Penn GSE research team will be conducting additional analyses with the goal of providing recommendations to improve future collection of data and answering additional questions, including which instructional approaches best engage users and which are the best measures of student engagement.
With advances in the treatment of childhood brain tumors, more children, some say up to 70%, survive and the numbers of caregivers have increased, as have the demands placed upon them. Usually caregivers are the children’s mothers and other family members, especially for those survivors who do not gain independence in terms of their ability to live on their own, find work, make friends and form partner relationships.
In the largest study of its kind, researchers led by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing have investigated the mothers who are caregivers to 186 childhood brain tumor survivors aged 14-40 whose care needs last long into adulthood. They based their research on a model containing factors central to nursing practice, namely the caregiver, the survivor and the family. They discovered that a complex interaction among components of the model, the health of the caregivers, the demands experienced by the caregiver, the caregiver’s perceptions about the health of the survivor and the family’s support interact to explain how the caregiver assesses herself in her role. The study was recently published in Health Psychology.
“Based on the results of this study, either family functioning or caregiver’s perception about the survivor’s health can be targeted to improve competence for caregivers of adolescent and young adult brain tumor survivors,” said Janet A. Deatrick, the Shearer Endowed Term Chair in Healthy Community Practices and professor of nursing.
Interventions targeted to survivor health could emphasize recovery expectations and reframe notions about the survivor’s functioning through family systems and cognitive-behavioral interventions.” The tumors and their treatment (i.e., surgery, chemotherapy, and cranial and/or spinal irradiation) can result in a range of late effects, including one of the most severe risk profiles for childhood cancer survivors (chronic morbidities and reduced health-related quality of life) and for their caregivers (ongoing care demands).
Specifically, the researchers tested a hypothesized model which confirmed that both the functioning of the family and the health of the survivor contributed to the caregiver’s sense of competence. “The direct relationship of family functioning with caregiving competence emphasizes the central role of family in the adaptation of the caregiver to his or her role. Instead of being predicted by caregiver demand as hypothesized, this study revealed that caregivers’ assessment of their role mastery is influenced most strongly by the functioning of their family,” wrote Dr. Deatrick, the lead author.
The study’s findings offered hope for families, noted Dr. Deatrick. “Researchers and medical personnel can target either family functioning or the health of the survivor as a means of improving the competence of caregivers.” Dr. Deatrick worked with colleagues and patients treated at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, including Wendy Hobbie, who also provides leadership in the School’s nurse practitioner concentration that focuses on pediatric oncology.
Identification of Molecule Critical to Healing Wounds
Skin provides a first line of defense against viruses, bacteria and parasites that might otherwise make people ill. When an injury breaks that barrier, a systematic chain of molecular signaling launches to close the wound and re-establish the skin’s layer of protection.
A study led by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine and published in the Journal of Cell Biology now offers a clearer explanation of the role of one of the players in the wound-healing process, a molecule called FOX01. Contrary to what had been expected, FOX01 is critical to wound healing, providing researchers with a possible new target for drugs that could help speed that process for people with impaired wound healing.
Senior author Dana Graves is a professor in Penn Dental Medicine’s department of periodontics and is vice dean for scholarship and research. He collaborated on the study with Penn’s Bhaskar Ponugoti, Fanxing Xu, Chenying Zhang, Chen Tian and Sandra Pacio.
A critical element of wound healing involves the movement of keratinocytes, the primary cells comprising the epidermis, the outer layer of skin. Previous research had found that FOX01 was expressed at higher levels in wounds, but scientists did not understand what role the molecule was playing. In other scenarios, such as in cancer cells, FOX01 promotes cell death and interferes with the cell reproduction, two actions that would seem to be detrimental to healing.
To investigate the role of FOX01 in wound healing, Dr. Graves and colleagues bred mice that lacked the protein in their keratinocytes and then observed the wound healing process in these mice compared to mice with normal FOX01.
“We thought that deleting FOX01 would speed up the wound-healing process,” Dr. Graves said, “but in fact it had the opposite effect.”
The mice that lacked FOX01 showed significant delays in healing. Whereas all wounds on control mice were healed after one week, all of the experimental mice still had open wounds.
Digging deeper into this counterintuitive finding, the researchers examined the effect of reducing FOX01 levels on other genes known to play a role in cell migration. They found that many of these genes were significantly reduced, notably TGF-β1, a critical growth factor in wound repair. When the team added TGF-β1 to cells lacking FOX01, the cells behaved normally and produced the proper suite of molecules needed for healing, indicating that FOX01 acts upstream of TGF-β1 in the signaling pathway triggered during the healing process.
Further experimenting revealed that mice lacking FOX01 had evidence of increased oxidative stress, which is detrimental to wound healing.
“The wound healing environment is a stressful environment for the cell,” Dr. Graves said. “It appears that upregulation of FOX01 helps protect the cell against oxidative stress.”
The fact that FOX01 behaves in this unexpected way could have to do with the specialized microenvironment of a cell in a wound, Graves noted. While FOX01 does indeed promote cell death when it is highly activated, it does the opposite when moderately activated. Which activity it promotes depends on the environment in which it is acting.
Taken together, the study’s findings demonstrate that FOX01 plays an integral role in two key processes in wound healing: activation of TGF-β1 and protecting the cell against oxidative damage. Its involvement in these aspects of healing make it a potential target for pharmaceuticals that could help speed healing.
“If you had a small molecule that increased FOX01 expression, you might be able to upregulate TGF-β1 as well as protect against the oxidative stress associated with wound healing,” Dr. Graves said.