In 2013 I enrolled in my first MOOC course. I am now getting ready to take few more of these free educational opportunities and will share my thoughts as I go through them. In the meantime, I would like to share my first experience with you. Have any of you taken a MOOC? Your thoughts?
A requirement of one of my Educational Technology courses was to enroll and participate in a MOOC. Before I go into the details of my experience, let me first explain what a “MOOC” is. The acronym stands for Massive Open Online Course. The word “massive” is for the fact that as many people that want to enroll in the course may do so. Some MOOCs have had tens of thousands of participants, whereas others may only get a hundred or so. The word open represents the cost of the course — free (although some schools are starting to charge fees if the student wishes to obtain college credit). The last two words are pretty obvious — the course will take place in a virtual, online format. So to sum it up, a MOOC is a free online course that anyone in the world can join and participate in. Hmm. Sounds pretty cool, huh?
So, as I said, I was required to join and participate in a MOOC. This was an assignment that I was actually looking forward to as I had been wanting to take a MOOC since I first heard about them a little less than a year ago. This was just the incentive I needed to finally sit down and just do it! The students in the class were given the option of joining one of two MOOCs offered through Coursera; either “Fundamentals of Online Learning” through a professor at Georgia Tech or “E-Learning and Digital Cultures” taught by a team of professors at the University of Edinburgh. Since I couldn’t make up my mind (and the courses are free), I decided to enroll in both of them. It was a tough decision as to which one to participate in. I was intrigued by the topic and concept of the course on digital cultures. However, since I hope to one day create online courses, the practical side of me won out and I opted for the “Fundamentals of Online Learning” course.
The first week of the “Fundamentals of Online Learning” course was very basic. Join a group by signing your name in a Google spreadsheet, watch some videos, and participate in group discussions. Ok, I thought, I can handle this. I watched all the videos, but I needed a good dose of caffeine to get me through. The videos were very dry; basically PowerPoints that were read by the professor. The topic, learning theories, is not the most exciting, and it was presented in a very dry fashion. The information covered old learning theories, new ones, and how to apply the theories to online learning. I was truly hoping that the first week was the worst and it would pick up from there. I couldn’t think it would get worse. But it did. After watching the videos, I went to the Google spreadsheet to enter my name in a group. At first, I could not get logged into the site. The error message was to the effect that the system was busy and I should try again. Hmm. Must be a lot of people in this course. After I was able to get logged in, I scrolled until I found an empty slot and typed my name. The system seemed a bit sluggish, but my name was entered and I was in group #61. I logged out. About an hour later, the OCD side of my personality decided I better log back in and make sure my name was still in group #61. Sure enough — my name was not in the list. So I signed up again, this time in group #89. I double checked before logging out, and yes, my name was still there. I logged back in a little later and again, my name was gone. What was happening!? I assumed that other people were signing up at the same time and we were overwriting each others’ names. How was this ever going to work?
Even though I was unable to get into a group, I went ahead and posted a discussion to a random group and submitted my post to the first assignment. Unable to do a lot more, I started watching the second week’s set of videos. They were as dry and boring as the previous. I remember thinking about the irony of a course that is supposed to teach how to create online courses was actually not practicing the theories that were being presented. There were lots of posts of people complaining about the inability to get into a group to have discussions. This really sent a HUGE message (other than the fact that the course was not working out). People WANT to network and talk to other people when they take an online course. The learning that happens by sharing experiences and connecting with see others can be as equally powerful as the actual material presented by the instructor. This was my main “take-away” from this course. I might have actually learned something about the fundamentals of online learning . . . had the course survived. However, this course was shut down by Coursera after the second week of class. My second take-away from the limited time I was in this course, is that teaching needs to change. Students do not need to sit and watch an instructor read some slides to them. Yes, they need to present material, but they need to also get students involved, sharing, and thinking with each other. Teaching needs to change.
Since I had signed up for both courses, I logged into the E-Learning and Digital Cultures course during week #3. I browsed around to see what was going on. Wow! This course was formatted totally different than the other course! The first thing I noticed was that the videos students were to watch were very abstract. A person would have to really sit down and think a bit about the message being sent. And there was no “right” or “wrong” answer, so the discussions were outstanding . . . very thought provoking. I was totally fascinated reading the perspectives of other members of the course. Ideas were presented that never even dawned on me, but made complete logic after reading the post. This was another “A-ha” moment in my MOOC experience. Everyone has different perspectives due to our different experiences in life. I don’t have to stay stuck in my own limited view of the world if I share and learn with others! This, to me, is one of the most outstanding features of MOOCS and online courses in general. In face-to-face classes I am limited by the people that I interact with as we are living in a very common area — within driving distance to the brick and mortar college building. And I assume that many people are like me — not as willing to step out of my conversational comfort zone when looking at other people. Online environments, like MOOCs, allow people from all over the globe to get together and share their thoughts. And being online, people tend to be more talkative. Everyone participates. It is not just a conversation among the extroverts in the class . . . all thoughts and ideas are laid out in the forum for sharing and discussion.
I would encourage everyone to find a MOOC on a topic of interest and participate in it. Keep in mind that there are as many different kinds of instructors as there are topics. If your first MOOC turns out to be like my first MOOC experience, don’t give up — try again. They are free, so what do you have to lose? But there is so much to gain.