I’ve spent a lot of time taking courses over the last 4 years in small online environments (less than a few hundred folk), nurtured by facilitators and colleagues taking a journey through the same type of materials as me (Moodle training, how to teach online, connectivism). I’ve heard all the worries of the folks who built these courses and taught them. I felt all the worries too. As in: Commercial massively open online courses aren’t going to be as personal as the smaller courses that have been around forever. They’ll be isolating, unhappy, loveless, without a sense of community, or worse yet they’ll just be traditional sage-on-the-stage teaching writ large.
Here’s the New York Times perspective on Massively Open Online Courses or MOOCs.
Before I decided to take the plunge with Coursera, I experienced a couple of MOOCs. The one that Dave Cormier was involved with — he wrote and narrated the video below — was aimed at understanding the current state and future of higher education. The video presentations were fantastic, but I found the materials hard to find, or, once found, hard to find again. I wrote endless notes to folk on discussion boards and nobody ever wrote me back. I finally dropped out, not caring as much about the future of higher ed as when I started the course. Dave’s view of what MOOCs can be is certainly much better than what I experienced. But maybe it was me, and not the MOOC.
More recently I ran across Dave’s video on how to succeed in a MOOC. He advocates a five-point method to be really successful in a MOOC.
It’s good advice and you can tell he’s really focused on developing learning networks and working towards a goal. So I started to think about what my goal might be, and there it was: what I really wanted was to watch other teachers teaching online, compare their strategies and think about how I want to teach.
I started to think about Coursera. I had attended one of the great webinars that the special interest groups of the International Society for Technology in Education put on. In that webinar I heard Lynne O’Brien of Duke University’s Center for Instructional Technology talk about Duke’s journey towards MOOCs. It sounded wonderful, like a whirlwind, passionate effort to put together some of Duke’s best classes for a global audience. A few weeks later, I attended another great webinar put on by Steven Gilbert’s TLT Group in which Amy Woodgate of the University of Edinburgh (my alma mater) talked about the “E-Learning and Digital Cultures” Coursera class. University of Edinburgh had hit the ground running too. That was fascinating: what was it about MOOCs that made big universities find a way to turn on a dime? Universities usually move at a glacial pace.
Some my friends who are teachers of smaller online courses are not at all happy about huge potentially commercial MOOC providers like Coursera. They worry about the type of teaching that might be done. They worry about how authentic the experience might be. I used to feel that way too. I had, after all, when I was influential at a small online graduate school, set a policy for very small and slightly more selective online courses on the academic side of the house. How could a methodology that would seem to be more in keeping with a dumbed-down avocational adult ed kind of model really deliver high end university goods to any and all comers?
I think what finally made me take the plunge was Daphne Koller. I think I found the link to her Ted talk through a blogger I follow. She didn’t have to talk very long to convince me that she belongs most authentically to that group of passionate, globally and yet individually focused educators who want everybody to have access to learning, people I admire, people like Nellie Deutsch whose “Integrating Technology for Active Lifelong Learning” I’ve talked about before, and like Dave Cormier.
See what I mean?
Not ten minutes after her talk was finished I had signed up at Coursera and was trolling for a course. The next day I signed up for another, and the next day another, and the next day another. Okay so I’m lurking: I’m watching the videos and taking the quizzes but I’m not engaging in the courses completely. Later on, when Amy Woodgate’s course comes up again, I plan on following Dave Cormier’s advice and plunging in, goals at the ready, committing and declaring in all directions.
For now, I’m happy to watch the way my four Coursera courses are playing out. They’re all different, in scope, in tone, in subject matter, in production values, in earthiness, in connectedness, in extra goodies to peruse. The whole experience is fascinating. I recommend the exercise highly! In a future blog I’ll write more about the courses themselves and what I’m learning about teaching online.