MOOCs and Kooks Part Deux!

As promised, here is follow up to the post I did a while back on the two MOOCs I took over the past month and half.

It was an interesting experience. Purely as a student, I enjoyed the heck out of it. Though I might remind myself next time that two at once was a bit much. Keeping track of the deadlines of two different assignments was challenging, and there were a few weekends where I really had to burn some time working on the material. The learning experience for me was great. In both courses I learned a lot, enjoyed doing the assignments, and felt it was totally worth my time (especially considering it was free).

I observed some interesting dynamics though. I found I spent almost no time on the class forums. Frankly the volume was too loud and I didn’t need them. The facebook group in one class that was centered around the software platform that we (the members of the group) used to do the course, was a bit more personable- there were about thirty members, of which I would say four were particularly active.

Most of the chatter I saw online really seemed to come from people who were uncomfortable operating in the online world. Questions about how to post things, technical difficulties with completing assignments, challenges using software or online platforms to do the work all constituted the bulk of the conversations as far as I could see. As I am pretty comfortable with the basic operations necessary to do the work (making pdf docs, recording and posting audio files to web sites like sound cloud, and posting videos to youtube), I didn’t need much help with that stuff. And frankly, one of the attractions of these courses was the chance to get some exposure to new ideas and wrestle with them myself.

I did run into one technical problem, making screenshot videos. I downloaded Camtasia (after using quicktime, which works, but I can’t recommend it if you want to make good screen capture videos), which was listed as a recommended software in one of the courses. I used their free trial and not only was it a great piece of software, but when I needed help I just tweeted my question and they looked at my videos on youtube, and tweeted back a link to a video on their website that covered the problem I was having. A really excellent 21st century customer service experience from the folks at TechSmith. And kudos for being on twitter in a meaningful way! If screen capture video would be useful to you, this is a great product, and I will be happily paying for it when I go to make some vids for my classes later this spring.

So, reflective thought one from my MOOC experience: Very cool, but this is an environment where the responsibility for learning is completely on the student. In many ways that is a good thing, but it means that the MOOC format will not be right for all educational contexts (more on that at the end).

Reflective thought two: I would really like to see the stats from courses like this. At one point, one of the instructors posted that there were over 50,000 people signed up in the course. That is indeed cool, but I want to know how many finished, what was the quality of learning, why didn’t the ones who completed complete, you know, all those research questions you would ask before you made any hard claims about the efficacy  of this mode of education delivery.

Reflective thought three: these courses were very effective, at least for me, at doing marketing for the full cost versions of online courses from Berklee or similar institutions. A 12 week, three credit course, online from Berklee costs about $1400. That’s actually not bad for a three credit course, and the courses are limited to 20 students at a time, so there is definitely a much higher degree of interaction with the instructor, including direct feedback on student’s work and the chance to have a more collegial engagement with other students (albeit online). But that is not a MOOC- it’s neither open nor massive. So you can see immediately that in the ‘for money mode,’ you immediately get a higher degree of engagement from the institution delivering the product. I would imagine that the professors of the courses I took would not need to do much to deliver the same course over and over, the videos are made, the assessments are made, and the assignments are peer scored- the work is front loaded, and can then be repeated many times with little further effort.

Reflective thought four: Peer evaluation really works, and it really works in the way that one of the professors said in an overview video. Peer evaluation does not provide as much learning for the person being evaluated (though the way it was set up was fine, and I did get meaningful feedback), it provides powerful learning for the student doing the evaluating. In both courses you completed and submitted your own work, then evaluated the work of five of your peers. You were given a rubric that was simple, but did lead you to make decision about whether the work you were evaluating had or had not achieved the objective. There was space for comments in all the rubrics, but you weren’t required to comment. In one of the courses, once I had completed evaluating the other students work, I then had to complete a self-evaluation using the same rubric. I found I viewed my own work in a whole new light after looking at/listening to the work of some of my peers. I could see where the weak points in my work were and what I might want to improve (you couldn’t change you assignment at that point, it was already submitted). As a result of this experience I am going to experiment more with having my students do peer evaluation. The trick is guiding their evaluation (through rubrics or some other method) so that they can focus on the piece of work.

And a wrap up: MOOCs are cool, and I’m glad I did it. It was a great learning experience for me, great marketing for the full cost versions of  online learning experiences, and a cool way for higher ed institutions to extend their brand and serve knowledge and learning in interesting ways. I can easily imaging doing more of these in the future just to satisfy my curiosity about things I’ll never have time to delve into otherwise. But MOOCs are not a panacea for anything. Engagement with instructors who understand their subject AND how to teach it will not go away. Especially in the world of K-12 education, where we deal with a captive audience that is often intrinsically UNmotivated, really good teachers will continue to be crucial in many ways. This experience definitely showed me some ways in which technology can help a bit, and I’m excited to explore those, but I’m not in fear for my job.

As a final note, I’ll share two bits of work from my courses.

Here is a screenshot vid I made for the course on Music Production:

And here is a recording of the song that was my final project for the songwriting class:

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