First MOOC Experience

Posted on February 3, 2013

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I enrolled in my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). The course title was “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application.” Even Alanis Morissette would call that title ironic. What’s a MOOC? I’ll point you to Ellis Bookers’ “Is 2013 the year of the MOOC?.” Or better yet watch Daphne Koller’s TED Talk on MOOCS. (BTW, has anyone NOT gotten a standing ovation for a TED Talk?)

I’ve taken my share of online courses and wanted to see how the experience would be to take a course with thousands of people around the world. My first choice was a Game Theory course. I then was interested in Harvard’s famous Computer Science 50 course. In the past, they had simply put some videos, notes and problem sets online for people to try. But now I see a At the start, over 40,000 people were enrolled. It was exciting to think of the varied reasons people would have for taking the course. Hey, Thomas Friedman, I’ve got a book for you – “Education is Flat.” There were people from different countries, people in k12 and higher ed and private industry.

The course videos were a standard talking head with presentation. The presentation might have been a PowerPoint, but it didn’t really matter. Bullet points are bullet points. I could tell that the professor was filmed in front of a green screen and the presentation would at times foreground or background.

I noticed that the video made no reference to assignments or readings. Why that is done is to make the video more of a reusable learning object. If the instructor changes a reading, they don’t want to rerecord a video. In that sense, the LMS ties the course elements together. And it was one of the those course elements that caused the course to be terminated.

Discussions are a staple of online learning. They are supposed to act as a tool to create collaboration and community. I feel that they are often treated as throwaways (but that’s for another blog post). In this MOOC, 40,000 people in one discussion would be overwhelming. The strategy used here was to have students join a group (max of 20) and have students interact within a 20 person group instead of 40,000. Sounds logical. But a Google spreadsheet was used for students to choose (or create) a group. Well, anyone could delete another’s cell entry. People complained that their names were deleted from a group. Furthermore, someone from the group had to create a discussion for future discussions. Soon, no one knew what group they were in or where the discussions were, if they existed. It was, as a fellow teacher used to say, a hot mess.

Today, I got an email saying that the course of terminated. This was my first experience with Coursera so I don’t know how discussions work or how other MOOCs handle grouping of thousands of students. My first thought would be to have the LMS automatically create the groups, but I noticed that there was an attempt by students to create groups based upon regions, language and professions. Such groupings sound like they could be effective. I might explore Web 2.0 ways for students to create groups. Coming from the front lines of K12, I know all too well the hazards of not testing idea and not preparing for the worse. Processes have to be super clear. While the vehicle to create groups was flawed, the instructions for original plan and the following plan to create a solution bumped into each other and created a chaotic atmosphere.

So now it’ s time to go back to Coursera and edX to see what is available.

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