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Tales from a MOOC, Part 1

I'm taking another MOOC, and for my first blog assignment, I reflect on dropping out of another MOOC. 

March 2, 2015

I’m currently taking a MOOC through Canvas on Blended Learning. I’ve been sitting on this particular piece for a while about my previous experience taking MOOCs. There are probably at least two or three more posts, but for this first one, let me reflect on the issue of course design. It’s fully online and not blended, but I think it reflects some thinking on designing the learner experience.

I’m transitioning into a new role, at a center for teaching and learning on a large, R1 campus. I’m excited, as much of my work lately has involved writing and talking and learning about this very subject. But my focus has been relatively narrow: broadly the humanities and more specifically writing and literature, particularly in regards to integrating digital tools effectively in the classroom. I’ve signed up for MOOCs before, but never had the time or fortitude to see them through, sometimes never even logging in for the first time.

But in my new job, I’m being paid to stay up to date and current in the latest scholarship on teaching and learning, not to mention that we are beginning to offer MOOCs through Coursera (How to Succeed in College!), and so I think it is important to not only try to learn something new, but also to experience the platform we are using ourselves. I bite the bullet and sign up for Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills, offered through Coursera by the University of Melbourne. I am particularly interested in the assessment component, as this is always the question faculty ask about when I propose integrating more problem-based or digitally inflected project-based learning.

I watch the introductory lectures. I engage with the video lecture the same way I used to engage with face-to-face lectures as a student: distractedly. It pauses every so often to quiz me to see if I’ve been listening, which I have, half-heartedly, while I browse my Twitter timeline. I know that they are trying to do, but I find clicking a radio button less stimulating than answering an actual question in class. This isn’t to say that I am easily distracted by the digital; if you were to have gone through my class notebooks that were supposed to be for taking class notes, you would instead find poems, short stories, letters to friends, and other scribbles that were most definitely not class notes. The culprit isn’t that social media is distracting, it’s the lectures are for many, not the most engaging form of learning.

I try to jump ahead to get my next assignment done, which is: “You are required to write up to 800 words exploring the nature of collaborative problem solving in a practical context relevant to you.” So I do. I make it relevant to me. But this isn’t really what they wanted. When the assignment was officially released, it didn’t resemble anything I had already done. I got as far as cutting-and-pasting the assignment requirements before I gave up. Relevant? For who? For the peer-graders? For the MOOC providers?

I write that because much of the research that the MOOC facilitators were presenting was the result of experiments that made me really uncomfortable. They boasted about how they monitored thousands of kids’ every clicks and keystroke during online work so they understood exactly the process of collaboration and how to a) facilitate it and b) evaluate it. Every click. Every movement each child made online.

What is the IRB on that?

I am always aware that my participation in MOOCs (much like my participation in social media and any other “freemium” thing I use online) is being closely monitored and tracked and studied and (often) monetized. But having it so obviously shoved in my face during the MOOC (we learned from how kids learn online and now we’re learning from YOU!!!) made me leery. I can take being monetized. I can take boring MOOC lecture videos. I can take poor assignment design. But I couldn’t take it all at one.

I dropped out of my first MOOC. 


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