This evening I’m starting my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Along with 40,000 others I’ve enrolled in E-learning and Digital Cultures, which has been set-up by Edinburgh University as part of the Coursera consortium, a group of Universities from around the world providing free online courses.
I’m interested in the topic but also want to get some first hand experience of MOOCs, which have been hyped-up a lot over the past year or so. As, nicely put by Zachary Goldman, there are some unexplored effects of moocs in the long term. What impact will MOOCs have on the traditional University? What will it mean for me as a Learning Technologist? Is it just a storm in a tea cup?!
So what are my first impressions?
Having logged on to the Courseara Website, the course looks well structured and achievable outside of work (screaming kids allowing!!). It is spread over 5 weeks with 2 blocks of content and an assignment – producing a digital artefact (very open-ended) and publishing it online, which will be peer evaluated. Each student is asked to provide feedback and evaluate 3 other students. When you first log on you are asked to sign-up to an “Honour Code”: essentially a mini learning/courtesy agreement.
I’ve had a quick look at the built-in Discussion Board. There is already a large volume of posts on day 1. It looks like some people may have unrealistic expectations. One person has already asked “Where are the professors?”. To be fair the instructors have seeded the discussion board and are involved in some of the conversations – but there are so many people posting, this is slightly drowned out. Personally I provided some feedback and got a reply from Jeremy Knox, one of the instructors, within a minute.
Whist I wasn’t too sure what to expect from a MOOC, as the “massive online” name suggests this is very much going to be driven by the students. By its nature I’m not expecting much (if any) 1-to-1 tutoring or the quality feedback you would expect from a paid-for distance learning course. What is available is a large number of very enthusiastic adult learners and it feels like there is quite a buzz about the course (at the start at least) and some very well considered posts from participants, from a wide range of people from many different cultures.
This particular course is “aimed at teachers, learning technologists, and people with a general interest in education who want to deepen their understanding of what it means to teach and learn in the digital age”. Ok, not necessarily a typical audience – would a less experienced / less confident cohort of students be less engaged? Thats an open question.
As well as the Discussion Board students are encouraged to use Web 2.0 tools, there is lengthy list of tools, not just the usual Twitter, Fb and GooglePlus. Use of these are optional and with this many people you can only read a small fraction of posts. For this particular course, use of these Web 2.0 tools is optional. The Twitter feed is showing new tweets every few minutes, but with this many people enrolled it is had to know many people are “lurkers” or how many are not engaging on the (optional) social learning aspect of the course. There is a LOT of social learning discussion – one participant (a 4th year Medical Student) blogs: There are 40,000 people in my class… My strategy to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
The minimum you need to do is read/watch some of the content and complete your peer evaluated assignment. You get a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructors (a PDF certificate); it is not endorsed by the University…but again it comes down to expectations; its a free course after all. The Statement of Accomplishment is unlikely to land you that dream job – but with this cohort of students at least – the driver for most people is interest rather than getting a qualification. It is more of a community CPD initiative. That makes MOOCs sound very non-challenging to traditional Universities. May be, but it is only a small step for MOOCs to provide free courses, but then to offer paid-for assessment and accreditation.
Phew…I’ve spent too much time blogging about it and now I need to watch the short films about utopian and distopian views of technology. Should be interesting…in the long distant past I did a social science degree and one of my self-selected topics was on technological determinism. This course will link up my current work (Learning technologies) with that part of my previous learning.