First Experiences with a MOOC

Day 1 of the #EDCMOOC

Though every time I’d read about a new MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) being launched I’d check out their course offerings, I had never really been motivated to participate in one. Ironically, though MOOCs were arguably one of the most revolutionary developments in e-learning and even education in the last decade,  I hadn’t seen any in the realm of either of those fields on offer. Until this morning, when a tweet caught my eye, and after a few minutes browsing Coursera, I signed up for E-Learning and Digital Cultures, offered by the University of Edinburgh, via Coursera–alog with 40,000 other students!

I consider it practically my duty as an educator in 2013 to have firsthand knowledge of as many modes of learning and course delivery as possible–it’s a question of credibility. So here I am, on a MOOC.

Actual comments and musings on the course content itself will come. But first a few reflections on what I’ve experienced of Coursera and the E-Learning course so far.

Where’s the map?

There’s no real course outline or one single place where a “road map” of the course is given. Every course I’ve taken EVER involved some kind of document, be it an outline, handbook or webpage, that outlined all the essentials of the course: instructor, dates, modes of contact, major assignments, and a basic structure of the course in terms of what material will be covered and in what order. So far I’ve found this essential information spread between a few confirmation e-mails in my inbox, the Coursera course offerings page, and several pages on the course website. I’ve spend a significant amount of the time I’ve invested into the course so far just trying to wrap my head around what the course is and what the hell we’re supposed to do, and how to do it.

I think this is an issue that would be solved with just a little more organization and planning when the course website was being built. There are 4 or 5 instructors on this course, so maybe it’s an issue of too many cooks?

What about the solitary learners?

Learners on this course can choose from an overwhelming number of avenues to interact with others in the course: Google+ groups and hangouts, a Youtube channel, a Twitter hashtag, a Facebook group, a discussion forum, Synchtube, which lets you watch videos and comment on them in real time with others, a blog with that automatically updates with any new blog posts on the subject from any bloggers who add their blog address to the site.

But I don’t feel like doing any of it! As I dove into the course material tonight, I just didn’t have the urge to go and participate in discussions with all these hundreds of interesting people around the world. Not at all. Part of me felt like I was “doing it wrong”–wasn’t I supposed to want to reach out and interact with these people in a way both similar to yet different from how I would in a face-to-face classroom? Isn’t creating these learning networks and communicating via them synchronously and asynchronously and tailoring what I get from them the beauty of e-learning?

Perhaps. But ever since elementary school I’ve hated group work–I was a solitary worker. I have always preferred to learn and work at my own pace and on my own. And while I will keep an open mind  (and blog and Twitter stream), I may end up interacting more with the material than with the other course participants.

Food for thought

Logistics aside, the course content and issues it brings up are interesting, topical, and relevant to any teacher working in the present day. There were a few issues with some of the course readings, all of which were posted online, becoming inaccessible, presumably due to not having the bandwidtch necessary for a deluge of 40,000 Courserians in a single day. Some of the articles were also posted on line in formats that made them difficult/annoying to read (for example, each paragraph on a different page, which made it difficult to grab to Pocket or Instapaper). Also, despite all the avenues given for course participants to interact with each other, I’m surprised they didn’t include any options for us to interact directly with the text, either to allow us to grab and annotate the texts, share marginal notes, or highlight and post comments and stickies that can be shared with others.


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