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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

More on MOOCs

Glenn Cohen beat me to the punch in blogging about MOOCs, but I thought I might build on what he's written by giving a different perspective: describing my own (admittedly limited) on-the-ground experience with MOOCs.

Taking a MOOC, or at least signing up for one, is extraordinarily easy and painless . A MOOC--Massive Open Online Course--is a course that is open to anyone and everyone and requires no tuition or fee, but also carries no actual academic credit. There are at least three major providers of MOOCs--Coursera, Udacity, and EdX--and signing up is as easy as entering your name and email address.

For the sheer fun of it, I suppose, I signed up for a literature course through Coursera and a statistics course through Udacity. I am just starting both. Some very brief and mostly practical observations, aimed primarily at those of us who may be doing some online teaching in the future:

1. Udacity and Coursera have radically different styles, or at least the courses I'm taking do. The Coursera course, offered through Brown, is rather sparse and staid and feels more like a traditional lecture. The Udacity course, offered through San Jose state, is flashy and interactive and self-consciously entertaining. The Udacity lecture segments are short, and they are spoken not by the professors themselves but rather by someone who appears to have been hired by Udacity for the purpose of presenting the material in an appealing way (read: an attractive young woman with a pleasant voice). Moreover, Udacity seems to be totally asynchronous, whereas Coursera requires you to follow an overall week-by-week schedule. In other words, there are a lot of choices that can be made about presentation style in the online format, and the above are just a few examples.

2.  It is exceedingly hard to pay close attention to a lecture on a video, even an engaging one, even for the brief 10-minute segments that Coursera offers. In real life, I have found that I can have difficulty focusing on live lectures for more than about 20 minutes or so too, unless the speaker is unusually entertaining. But with the computer format, it is even harder, because you are at an additional remove from the speaker, and because it is just too easy to start surfing the web, checking email, checking your bank account, etc. while still convincing yourself you are "listening" to the lecture in the background.

3.  Because thousands of people can (and do) take these MOOCs, the discussion threads are extremely lengthy. Though I suppose they are meant to give the student of feeling of interactivity, I find them rather overwhelming and not worth the time -- especially since many of the comments are relatively devoid of useful content.

4. It is really fun, but weirdly intimidating, to be a student again.


Posted by Jessie Hill on June 5, 2013 at 10:04 PM in Information and Technology, Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink


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I think the introduction of MOOCs is going to be great for the community, however, I see them as a supplement to higher education – not a replacement. The open courses (although run by some Ivy League and world class institutions) are not reproduction of the universities original course and do not offer academic credit or recognisable qualification. I think they will be around in the long-term future, but see their primary function being as a means of self-development.

Posted by: Jenna Black | Jun 11, 2013 8:40:46 PM

If it's painful for us to listen to 20 minutes high-quality, professionally packaged speakers -- which it is -- imagine how unimaginably difficult it must be for our students to listen to us (or fellow students grimly reciting the facts of World-Wide Volkswagen) for an hour or more at a stretch.

Posted by: Frank Snyder | Jun 7, 2013 6:37:51 PM

I am taking a MOOC offered by the Santa Fe Institute called, not surprisingly, "Introduction to Complexity." I like it a lot. Learning some of the math of complexity science is helpful in assessing which of the metaphors are apropos and which are not.

To my chagrin, I got one wrong answer on the quiz covering fractal dimensions.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jun 6, 2013 2:30:03 PM

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