I’m about to finish a MOOC. Yup, a MOOC – a Massive Open Online Course, this one run by Stanford’s Venture Lab. The course is called Designing a New Learning Environment, and while I was interested in the topic, I was more interested in taking a course that was free, was fully online, and had thousands of participants from all over the world. A group of 11 other students and I worked on a project together, and my teammates were from Evergreen, Colorado; Lahore; London; Dubai; Sao Paulo; Adelaide; Tampere, Finland; Montalvo, Portugal; and Gurgaon, India, just southwest of New Delhi. It was a fascinating mix of people and represents the best part of this experience: Getting to know and working with a very diverse group of folks, of all ages, of all walks of life.
MOOCs, given their very nature, are for the self-directed. Sign on the course’s web portal, and posted there are weekly video lectures, none more than 20 minutes long, and weekly assignments, none of which have been too onerous – thoughtful, sure, but not too onerous. Some of the weekly assignments are reviewed and graded by peers, and there is a community forum that I’ve not ventured into, given a lack of time recently. A quick glance at it, and topics on the forum range from a complaint about misspellings when video lectures are transcribed to a question about how to help “students enhance their motivation and make them better self-regulated learners.” In just the forum that asked people to introduce themselves, there were 1508 threads and 3882 posts when I last looked. No doubt there are far more now.
Perhaps that’s what I struggle most with in the course: The immense amount of information that it presents, given the thousands of participants, and trying to find the gems within that information. It takes a lot of digging.
We’ve all heard what MOOCs may do to the post-secondary space, that they’re an innovation that will cause some disruption, although it’s unclear what exactly. For example, is there a business model for these huge, free courses, enough of a model to sustain them? Time will tell. But what about high schools, a place that MOOCs might impact? Can we imagine high school students taking part in a MOOC in a school’s blended learning environment – or maybe in the summer or over a holiday break, as a way to shore up what was learned in the traditional classroom? In fact, here’s a news release from the University of Miami saying that its online high school, UM Global Academy, will sponsor the first MOOC for high school students, a three-week, six-session class focused on the SAT subject area test on biology. Seems a brilliant use of the MOOC format and a way for this online high school to attract new users.
I can also imagine MOOCs bubbling up from technology-savvy teachers, who’ve already created digital tools and artifacts for their regular classrooms and move them over to an online platform, to share beyond their schools. These MOOCs will only work for the most self-directed of young people, as I said before, but imagine the benefit for them, as students dive into a topic of interest and get to study and develop relationships with peers from all over the world. Could be a very powerful experience, with all kinds of connections to 21st century skills.
Now, I’m not yet done with my MOOC adventure, as I plan to enroll in a five-week-long MOOC offered through Coursera, called E-Learning and Digital Cultures. The topic again interests me, and I’ll be able to experience a new course structure and approach, to compare to my experience with Venture Lab. In fact both MOOCs give me the chance to study e-learning and examine closely its inner workings, as a participant.