These are the days of my MOOCs…

In the past year I’ve been trying out several different MOOC (Massively Open Online Courses) from various providers. This post is intended to be a brief recap of those experiences thus far.

I started with a BOOC (i.e., a Big Open Online Course) entitled Educational Assessment: Practices, Principles, and Policies offered by Indiana University and taught by Dan Hickey. This one was the most rigorous of all the courses I’ve taken thus far, and incorporated use of an entire assessment textbook and significant writing exercises and challenging exams throughout the course.

Next up was a MOOC on Video Games and Learning, offered by the University of Wisconsin and Taught by Constance Steinkuehler and Kurt Squire. This MOOC made significantly more use of video and has the distinction of having spawned the most meaningful connections with other students in the course (at least from my perspective). I also appreciated the opportunities for creativity in the assignments – and even though there was significantly less reading, I found myself putting in a lot more time with this course than with the previous course.

I took a short break with MOOCing in the spring and then started up again this summer with a course from Harvard’s EdX site called Leaders of Learning – taught by Richard Elmore. This course featured well-produced videos as the main mode of instruction and also included a robust set of additional readings or websites to visit. Most assessments were self-reviewed, but there was one peer-reviewed assignment toward the end of the course. I wasn’t able to make any of the scheduled live-discussion sessions, but I suspect that would have greatly enhanced my sense of connection to other learners within the course. None-the-less it was well-organized and an enjoyable learning experience.

Now I’m enrolled in a course on Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom. This course is offered by UC Irvine (via Coursera) and taught by Melissa Loble. It uses a mix of video and narrated slides as the primary mode of instruction. I’m still getting a feel for the learning community, but have appreciated the detailed syllabus and well-structured lectures (with embedded quizzes) thus far.

On the work-front, I’ll be gearing up to study a MOOC (though somewhat less “massive” in its first iteration) being offered by the American Museum of Natural History this fall. The course, entitled Our Earth’s Future began as a multi-week face-to-face course offered at the museum and will be moving online as a way to reach younger and more geographically diverse audiences. I’m very excited about the opportunity to compare various elements and outcomes of the course in its face-to-face and online forms. I’m also excited to use some of the first-hand experiences I’ve been gathering as a MOOC participant to inform my work as a MOOC evaluator.

General Lessons Learned Thus Far (From a Participants’ Experience):

1) Make learner expectations and timelines clear. Make it abundantly obvious to learners what they need to do (by when) and have a single place that they can go to track progress as well as upcoming events/due-dates. Having one streamlined list or jumping-off point for everything that must be done is incredibly helpful especially for learners on the go, or those with limited time.

2) Offer flexible pacing options. My views on module pacing are somewhat mixed.  The MOOC I’m taking now has all course resources available from the start – so a participant can literally sit down and work through the entire course in one long session (albeit that’s probably not advisable). In all previous courses there was delayed release of course modules.  In Leaders of Learning there was a one week break in the middle of the course, which was great because it allowed me to get caught up after a late start, but also kept me from being able to move forward when I was ready to do so (as I had with previous modules).

3) A mix of readings and videos is better than all of one or the other (at least in my opinion). I’ve participated in courses that were all reading/no video lectures, and courses that were all lectures/no readings, but in my opinion, the best courses were those that combined reading and video resources.

4) The community element can be key to a positive learning experience for some learners but a challenge to effectively facilitate. Building community can be tough when there are thousands of participants participating from all over the world.  I’ve seen instructors use different strategies to try to create smaller groups based on professional backgrounds or interests (good), and Alphabetically (not as good), but it also seems like there might be some merit in exploring groupings based on start-time – i.e., when participants are planning to be working through different activities – in a more open-ended course, it’s hard to stay in sync with other students. I think a lot of it comes down to who’s enrolled in a course and how outgoing/collaborative they want to be – also what resources there are to facilitate participants’ ability to connect with other learners with similar interests or backgrounds – I’ve found that most MOOCs don’t include sortable or categorized lists of different students – but its really helpful for making more purposeful connections with other learners when they do. I’m definitely interested in continuing to explore what modes of community-building work well in different circumstances. I’d also like to note that forcing all learners to engage as part of a community may not be necessary – some people prefer to learn on their own, whereas other prefer and/or benefit from more numerous and more meaningful opportunities to interact.

5) Its helpful for facilitators to be responsive and reactive to comments and requests made by learners throughout the learning process. In both the assessment and video games MOOCs the instructors posted comments or videos each week that reflected on things that they’d seen in the previous weeks’ assignments and discussions. They answered questions, and provided further reflections on the learning experience. This obviously has some implications for course pacing and the need for relative synchronicity among learners, but seems to contribute to a sense of being a part of a class rather than merely taking a course.

If I think of more things I’ll add them here in the future – and will be sure to add updates about other MOOCs in which I participate or that I’m involved in studying.

gamesandlearning_cert   assessment_certharvard_Leaders_of_Learning_Certificate

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