Ideally, I suppose, I should headline this post “5 Things I’ve Learned from MOOCs.” That’s likely what a course – massive or online or open or not – is supposed to have a student tout: what I learned.
If I were being really forthright with my readers, I would headline this story “5 Things I’ve Learned from MOOCs as a Serial MOOC Dropout .” That’s certainly a warning that when I speak about my experiences  with MOOCs, it’s as a lurker and a dropout.
I sign up for courses, and I pop in and out. I’ve never felt particularly guilty about it. I sign up for the course. I read participants’ blogs. I drop in to webinars. I watch the odd video, read the odd reading assignment I learn what I want to, when I can. I’m busy – we all are, I realize.
What keeps me engaged in a class most often is the community. That’s what I’ve learned lately from MOOCs and other online learning experiences. It’s not the class or the subject matter per se, the syllabus, the curriculum, the assignments or assessments, although yes, that’s what prompts me to enroll. I stay or go because of the people.
1: My peers matter. When the C in MOOC feels like “community,” I’m far happier than when the C feels like “course.” I want to learn and share with others, and I feel most committed to learning experiences where I am responsible not just for my own learning but where I feel connected to and perhaps even responsible to others’.
Other things I’ve learned about myself and about what matters – to me at least:
2: I don’t like lectures. I recognize this might be a disciplinary distinction. I studied literature. We sit in circles with our books open and talk about what we read. We take turns reading aloud. Sometimes we act scenes out in class. My literary background does make me partial to drama and storytelling, I’ll admit. And I am quite partial to spinning a good yarn at the front of the class. But I can only handle a very little bit of lecture.
I lose interest easily, less so in person I’d say, but certainly when lectures are delivered via online video. I tab out. I have struggled with the Udacity  and Coursera  courses for this very reason.
3: The teacher matters. The teacher always matters, of course. Some teachers you like, some you don’t – online or off. Some teachers topics make the dullest topics wonderfully perplex and engaging. (See #2 for how it can be challenging for me to stay engaged watching video). Some teachers do an excellent job of facilitating discussion and fostering community. (See #1). I should add here that all the MOOCs I’ve sat in have had great teachers.
4: I rage against robograders . I just completed Week 3’s homework in the Coursera  CS 101 class. I had a run-in with the automated assessment that I felt mis-scored my homework. Mistakes happen, I realize, whether a human or a robot grades things. But in a massive class, it doesn’t always feel like grievances can be heard. (See 1 and 3.) Bad grades and bad robograding make me frustrated.
5: The platform matters. Last week Lisa Lane wrote about her decision to “leave an open class ,” namely Curt Bonk’s “Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success .” It’s not the professor or the material that prompted her decision, she writes.
It’s the classroom. I wanted to attend to see the new CourseSites from Blackboard, which is being touted as Bb’s “open” LMS. Maybe it would be innovative! A new LMS. I’m always very interested in learning management systems, and what they can do.
Well, it’s the same old Blackboard, with more white space, nicer fonts and some cool icons.
First assignment included two 44-page pdf files that were expensive to print and difficult to read online since they were double-spaced. Oh.
Well, OK. I went over to the discussion to introduce myself, and oh dear. Same threaded discussion -- very 1999. With each iteration of Bb, I find it harder to believe they’ve done nothing with forums. Each person had started their own “thread” to introduce themselves, necessitating opening each one at a time or collecting those on the page.
30 pages worth of introductions were too much to page through, but the alternative to using the forms was writing a blog, and as Lane writes, “I’m not going to blog inside a closed system.”
Lane’s criticisms here are aimed at squarely at the platform for Bonk’s class (see Joshua Kim’s more positive take on it ), but arguably her criticisms could extend to many of the newcomers to the MOOC trend, namely Udacity and Coursera, whose platforms too contain a lot of the features that are recognizably “old LMS.” Or at least, there’s a lot of discussion forums.
And here we come around again to #1, learning with others matters to me. I might be in a class of hundreds of thousands of students in a MOOC. But in some ways, the platforms they’re being offered on make me feel really alone. Or rather, it’s just me and a bunch of lecture videos.