I am in the midst of my third MOOC. At the time I registered for #DLMOOC, I had already registered for History of the Slave South, offered through Coursera. My current foray is into Design Thinking, offered by Iversity.
The three courses are highly divergent in their content, presentation, and instructor-student interaction. As I reflect on my reaction to the various courses, I am trying to determine how and why I feel differently about them.
History of the Slave South is a modified version of a University of Pennsylvania course, presented by Professor Stephanie McCurry. It was the most traditional of the three courses. There was a syllabus, with precise deadlines (for those who wanted to receive a certificate of completion). There were lectures to watch (with short quizzes integrated), readings (mostly primary source materials), and weekly online discussions on a specific topic.
There were also five writing assignments over the ten weeks, which required careful analysis and synthesis of course content. In addition to writing, each student was required to peer review other students’ work, and evaluate their own work. The review process was structured; there were particular aspects of the writing that were evaluated (e.g. “what is the writer’s thesis?”).
Some students complained loudly about the peer review process, declaring that it was too much work. I thought it was a great aspect of the course, as I learned something from each of my peer’s commentaries on my work. I also learned from my peers’ analysis of the same materials I had read, given their insights were typically somewhat different than mine.
I thoroughly enjoyed History of the Slave South, as Professor McCurry is a knowledgeable and articulate lecturer, and the topics we covered were fascinating. The online discussions were lively, although I followed few of the thousands of posts. I also found it interesting to gain the perspectives of students living outside of the United States, of which there we many. This course fed my intellectual self.
DLMOOC was presented in a dramatically different fashion. Each week, there were a number of “readings,” although some of those were actually video presentations. There were online discussions through G+. Online panel discussions were scheduled once or twice a week, which could be “attended,” or watched later, in the archived course materials. Optional assignments were also defined, some of which I did, others I did not.
Early on, a variety of sub-groups formed, based on specific interests. The discussions that developed in these groups were free-form, with abundant sharing of information and ideas. Due to participating in some of these groups, I have expanded my #PLN, since several participants have expertise that will help me grow professionally.
The facilitators’ attitude, which they announced periodically throughout the course, was that participants were free to come and go as they wished, with no obligations, and no guilt. My personality being what it is, I couldn’t be so laissez-faire in my participation, but I certainly had weeks when I was “behind,” and times when I only gave cursory attention to the materials.
One of the (optional) assignments each week was to tweet about a particular topic. I thought this was clever; a simple, effective way to raise awareness in the Twitter world that DLMOOC was happening, and to give a glimpse into some of the topics we were exploring.
I derived a great deal of knowledge and enjoyment from DLMOOC. The formal presentations, and the less formal discussions, added to my existing knowledge related to PBL, and many other topics in education. The free-flowing format encouraged participants to share, including articles, experience, links to resources, etc. The fact the course materials and discussions are archived indefinitely adds to the appeal – I can return at any time to deepen my understanding. This course fed my professional self.
I’m in the throes of Design Thinking, and am struggling to enjoy this MOOC. The format of the course is short lectures, many of which are followed by short quizzes. For each lecture, there is also a discussion question. Most of the lessons also include additional (optional) reading material.
As I reflect, I think there are two major reasons for my discontent. The first is that the concepts that have been presented so far are ones I already know something about, so minimal #deeperlearning is happening. I am bored.
The second reason is that the discussions seem relatively shallow, and often esoteric. Maybe that is what causes me the most discomfort – although I greatly enjoy intellectual discussions, endless navel-gazing does not excite me. So, this course and I may not be a good fit. Nonetheless, I will finish it, because giving up is bad form, both for my sense of self, and in my role of modeling #lifelonglearning to the students I interact with. This course is not feeding my artistic self.
As I reflect on what I liked and did not like, I wonder how today’s young students would react to these courses. I find I need to constantly put myself into their shoes, to remind myself how different their reality is from mine. Their world has always had the Internet. Living without some sort of hand-held technology device (smartphone, iPod, tablet…) is inconceivable to them. These are two glaring differences between their childhood and mine, but there are many others. This reality provides a good argument as to why we should include students in the planning process. We need to invite them to discuss with us what and how they think they should learn!