First Impressions of a MOOC

neverIn a recent FLYODI post, entitled MOOCs and MOODLES and Modules – Oh my!, I discussed some of the recent developments in online learning.  I also mentioned that I’d soon be participating in a MOOC — a Massive Open Online Course — and that I’d provide my impressions of the course.  I’ve now finished week one.

In my earlier post, I mentioned Coursera — a rapidly growing organization that is partnering with universities around the world to produce high quality online classes — MOOCs. I recently enrolled in a Coursera MOOC and have now viewed the first week’s lectures, read the supporting readings, explored the related online resources and, taken the first quiz. (And yes, I passed, thank you very much.)  🙂

cnlThe course is entitled The Camera Never Lies, and it’s offered through the University of London’s International Programmes. It examines still and video images and their impact on historical evaluation. In this blog post, I’ll provide you with my initial impressions of the course. This is only the end of week one of a six-week class and my impressions may change but I have already discovered some interesting aspects of MOOCs in general, of Coursera.org, and this Coursera class in particular.

moocBefore discussing specifics, I’d like to mention that a MOOC is an online class that’s open to everyone.  As such, classes can contain a very large number of students.  In this particular course, there are approximately 40,000 people enrolled. The courses are asynchronous, which means there is no set time a student must be in class. All of the learning material (lecture videos, reading materials, links, quizzes, etc.) are available 24 hours per day.  There is an online discussion forum where students can ask questions or explore a topic in more detail.  While some online education providers charge a fee for some of their for-credit courses, the course I’m taking is free.

Okay, so on to my experiences….

I found it quite easy to create an account and find a course using the Coursera website. There is a wide variety of topics and you can easily find one that interests you using by the search feature.  It’s important to note though that, while the courses are asynchronous, they do have start and end dates.  After browsing a number of titles, I found it easiest to click on the link that said “View Courses Starting Soon”.  While this worked well, there was a bit of confusion about the start date of the particular course I selected. The start date changed a couple of times (by a total of a week or so) after I registered for the six-week course.

Registering for the course was a snap — it literally consisted of one click.  I received an email almost immediately confirming my registration and providing additional detail about the class.

emmetWhen I began exploring the course itself, I found the the administrative instructions were clear and easy to follow and all of the technical details were in place.  The lecture videos and links worked correctly and I was able to access the discussion forum.  It was also apparent that the lecture videos were professionally done and they were presented in high resolution.  I was not quite as impressed with the PDF documents provided in support of the lectures.  They were a bit disjointed and contained some extraneous material that, in some cases, seemed to be a vain attempt at humor.

In general, my initial impression is that the quality of the instruction is good.  The instructor is obviously British, and while his accent is not a particular problem, I found his syntax and idiomatic expressions required a bit of an adjustment on my part.  This would only be a problem, of course, for an American taking the course, or someone accustomed to the American version of the English language.

One very nice feature is that you can speed up or slow down the delivery of the lecture — making the video suit your ability to absorb the material.  This is a FANTASTIC improvement over traditional lectures. If only I could have sped up some of my real-world college professors!  I’m not sure I would have finished college more quickly, but it sure would have made my college life a good deal more pleasant!  🙂

As yet, I have not experienced the wonderful type of collaboration that is said to be one of the most important benefits of MOOCs.  That’s probably due to the fact that this is an introductory course.  I think if the material were a bit more advanced, one would be more likely to encounter serious, like-minded students with whom a relationship could develop. It is still early in the course though, so perhaps there is still an opportunity for this to occur.

trollThere has been one unfortunate aspect of the course — and that’s the behavior of some students in the discussion forums.  While the insights and comments of the vast majority of the students are constructive — in fact surprisingly good — there are a few “trolls” in the forums. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, an Internet troll is an inexplicably angry person who seems intent on disrupting otherwise civil Internet discourse by resorting to juvenile behavior and personal attacks — insults, vulgarity and even threats — to get attention. On the bright side, the instructor has dealt with this problem fairly quickly, even blocking some students from further participation the course.

Viewing this experience from a higher perspective, I must say I wonder about the impact and future of MOOCs.  Some dedicated proponents seem to think MOOCs represent the future of education, and that they will soon eliminate the traditional college campus.  While it’s certainly a good thing to provide greater access to education, I wonder if the structure provided by more traditional educational models isn’t a necessary element for most students.  In other words, I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect someone to complete a degree program this way.

Those are my impression based upon one week in a MOOC.  In general, I’m enjoying the course and have learned quite a bit.  I like the fact that I can participate in the course from anywhere, using a laptop, a tablet, or even my smart phone.  I can also see that student feedback in the forums could be an invaluable aspect of this form of learning.  Since these courses are free — I strongly recommend that EVERYONE give it a try.

There will be more to follow about this course as the weeks progress.  So, stay tuned!

Resources:

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative
Coursera.org
edX
Harvard Extension School
MIT Open Courseware
Open Yale Courses
Stanford Engineering Everywhere
Udacity
Webcast Berkeley

 

As always, it makes our day here at FLYODI to hear your comments and impressions. Have you had experiences with online instruction that you’d like to share?  Feel free to put them in the box below!

© Copyright 2013 FLYODI, All rights Reserved. Written For: FLYODI: Life -- Better!

4 thoughts on “First Impressions of a MOOC

  1. Bonnie

    I really enjoyed your critique and the list of other online opportunities for education. Thank you.

  2. admin

    Your welcome Bonnie — glad you liked it. I wonder if the idea would for a nation-wide type of Pillar organization. I mean, I realize the face-to-face social interaction in the classes is key but perhaps this would be good for people whose mobility is restricted. I must say the course is engaging and really gets me thinking. I also wonder if something like this could help to create an online network or even a community of seniors.

  3. admin

    Hi Lisa,
    At the moment, the vast majority of Coursera courses are non-credit. Back in February of this year Coursera, announced that a small number of their courses (four math courses and one genetics class) had been approved for credit. These courses require a student to take a proctored online exam at the end of the course. At the moment, these for-credit Coursera courses still appear to be free but most online providers charge a fee for the for-credit versions of their classes.

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