My romance with MOOCs started some months ago, when I stumbled upon a TED video featuring Daphne Koller, the co-founder of Coursera. Should you desire to know more details about this, you can click here to read about it. However, the point of today’s post is not to go into the reasons of my exploring MOOCs all over again. So what is the point of this post ?
To put it quite simply, it it to compare my experiences with the two MOOCs that I have completed so far. Since I have a keen interest in online education, and I am a believer in the potential and power of the internet, and also because I am mostly utopian in my outlook, I am exploring the options of furthering my career in the online education arena. I am already experimenting with a few Open Source LMS on live domains which are in testing stage right now. However, I am also rational enough to not rush blindly into setting up something straight away simply because I find it fascinating. I like to consider myself as someone who is realistic and I am well aware that I have a lot to learn before I go chasing this dream of mine. And is this quest for learning that has made me an explorer of MOOCs.
As you can probably guess from my line of thought so far, both the MOOCs that I have completed so far have dealt with a common subject – E-Learning. The other common factor in the two is that both were offered by Coursera through different universities. And both were free – don’t I just love that ? 🙂
But that’s where the similarity between the two courses ends. The first one was a disaster – it almost put me off the concept of online education. The second one was a course that I fell in love with – and thank God I enrolled in this one, because it served to restore my faith in MOOCs. No prizes for guessing which course I am referring to. Yes, it was the EDCMOOC – or E-Learning & Digital Cultures offered by University of Edinburgh, or #edcmooc as we have all got used to calling it. There was a third course that I had enrolled in, which was also on a related subject, and offered by Coursera. Whilst it was interesting, it was not interesting enough to take my focus away from EDCMOOC, and so I decided to un-enroll and take it up again when it offered sometime next year.
And which was the first one – the one that almost destroyed my interest in MOOCs ? Well, out of common decency, I would like to refrain from naming it, because this is after all a public platform and it is not a very nice thing to be openly critical of someone / something in a public forum such as a blog. For the sake of this narrative, let me just refer to it as Mooc-1.
Mooc-1 was my first ever online course, and I was highly enthusiastic about it. Till the time it started, I was not aware of the differences between an x-Mooc and a c-Mooc, and it was only later, when I started with the EDCMOOC that I became aware of the stark differences. Needless to say that Mooc-1 was an x-mooc and it started well enough, with the introductory video, followed by the week’s video lectures. Each progressive video lecture saw my enthusiasm ebbing. And why was it ebbing, you may well ask ?
The answer is simple. When a lecture is being recorded, the least that the instructor can do is make it engaging and interesting. In this case, they were neither interesting nor engaging. If I was to sum it up in one word, it would be “boring”. Why boring ? Well, because that is what I would call any lecture where the instructor speaks in a monotonous voice with a fixed expression, leading you to believe that they were simply reading out from the screen that they were staring at. After watching two videos I was convinced that I had found a perfect cure for the insomnia that I had been suffering from for the preceding week !
And to top it all. I was proved right about the instructor reading from the script on the screen. Coursera has an option of downloading the videos as well as any associated powerpoints, and it was when I downloaded the first powerpoint that I realized that the instructor was actually reading out from slides verbatim – I actually compared a couple of videos with the slides and there was absolutely no deviation. None whatsoever.
Initially, I was put off by this, until it struck me that this was my passage through the course. Because this also meant that I no longer needed to sit though the video lectures. All I needed to do was to download the powerpoints, and read through the notes panes. And this is precisely what I did. I read through the notes and attempted all the weekly quizzes, and sailed my way through the course, as well as the final quiz, securing a distinction with 96.4%. Howzzat ?
This highlighted a few facts to me:
i. One need not be an intellectual to successfully complete a course of this kind. I know this for certain because I am no intellectual. I am a fidgety person with a very limited attention span and would have dropped out of the course had it not been for the powerpoints.
ii. This course need not have lasted an agonizing four weeks. Everything that I read in the notes panes of the powerpoints could have been condensed into a three-day capsule course, at the most.
iii. The presence of an instructor was not necessary for such a course !
And now I would like to touch upon another aspect of the course, which was the almost total absence of the social learning aspect. Yes, there were the forums on Coursera where some participants were interacting, but unfortunately, Coursera’s forums leave a lot to be desired. They are not user-friendly and difficult to wade through. True, some of the discussions were engaging, but most were monologues. Most of the action was found in the threads not monitored by Coursera staff, but here too most of the discussion was about the poor quality of the course, and also about the instructor’s dog which was visible in all the videos ! There was a Facebook group as well, dedicated to this course, which I did join, but at the end of the day it fizzled out. There was very little happening there in terms of sharing knowledge, and very few stimulating discussions. The only good thing that came out of the Facebook group was the encouragement from a couple of participants when I was ready to drop out at the end of the second week. But it was actually the availability of powerpoints that saw me through.
So much for Mooc-1.
Now coming to the second MOOC which I completed – the EDCMOOC. After having done Mooc-1, I approached this course with a lot of skepticism, which took only a couple of hours into the course to be replaced with a sense of excitement that a child experiences when he gets his hands on a new toy. This excitement, however, soon turned into a sense of overwhelm. Initially a feeling of panic had set in and I found myself wondering how I was going to be able to engage with so much reference material, with no video lectures to guide me. However, thanks to a lot of help from the peers and the CTAs, this feeling of overwhelm soon settled and I dug into the course with a lot of enthusiasm. I did mention earlier that I had enrolled in another MOOC – Blended Learning – which was in it’s third week when EDCMOOC started. Blended Learning was actually a good course which was far more engaging than Mooc-1, but it paled in contrast when I simultaneously dived into the EDCMOOC. It was a tough call, but I decided to opt out of the Blended Learning course in order to be able to focus on EDCMOOC. Of course, I have every intention to re-enroll in the course when it is offered again. But let’s come back to EDCMOOC for now.
So what was different about it ? Well, everything. For starters, I think it had a great faculty who designed and conducted the programme brilliantly. Initially, I was puzzled by their lack of visibility. Yes, the announcements and guidelines made everything crystal clear, and the weekly resources were chosen thoughtfully – they were engaging, thought provoking, and designed to induce the learner to seek more. I could not get enough of it. What I also loved about this course was the pace that it had set, with never a dull moment in the entire five-week duration.
There was so much happening. Whilst the Coursera forums were as confusing as ever, and I must confess that I seldom visited them, the social media spaces were afire with #edcmooc. Learning from peers and their work was a new experience for me. I have never used Twitter so much in my whole life as I did during EDCMOOC, absorbing every tweet that was tagged with #edcmooc, following links of my peers, reading their blog posts, and interacting with them on the Facebook groups as well.
I also learned first-hand about the power of PLNs – the Personal Learning Network. A few of us formed our own PLN, and initially there were about 8 of us who joined, but at the end of the day there were just three of us who were interacting there right till the end, and I am happy to say that I made two good friends there and learned a lot from them in the process.
I also discovered for the first time the power and potential of self-directed learning, which was the essence of the course. This course taught me to focus, to interact, to voice my opinions, and read the opinions of my peers. And this is something that I have always struggled with in the past, having a short attention span when it comes to studying formally. EDCMOOC helped me to overcome this limitation. I chose to write a blog to document my progress through EDCMOOC, something that I tried to do religiously and also engaged with a whole lot of the course resources. And yet, there is a whole list of pending resources that I have yet to go though, but go through them I will, because ECMOOC has ignited in me a passion for learning which I have not experienced for many years now.
The weekly hangouts on Google were also an excellent way of engaging students and it was great to hear the instructors speak about the course, and it was also equally amazing to find out that they were actually quite aware of what was going on in the blogs and social spaces. I’m sure this would not be an easy task for them considering that there were almost 23,000 participants on the course. What was especially great was to be mentioned several times on the hangouts, which did give me a sense of pride for having my work noticed among so many peers.
And this post would not be complete without a special mention of the CTAs – the Community Teaching Assistants, who were all students from the previous run of the ECMOOC. I have already written earlier about this aspect, but I would like to say this once again – they were absolutely wonderful and saw many of us through this course with their guidance and encouragement. I also learnt a new term from them “Fraingers” – Strangers who were friends. And I am so glad to have had them around.
Having spent the best part of my life in the service-oriented industry, I have never really been an introvert, but this course showed me that when it came to being an extrovert and interacting publicly with people from around the globe, I still had a lot of catching up to do 🙂 However, thanks to this course, I have come to know a lot of my peers, and am happy to now have some of them on my friends list on Facebook, and am following several on Twitter as well.
So now, perhaps, after having read my tale of the two MOOCs, I am sure you will agree with me when I say that running a MOOC is a lot more than just reading out from slides. It is all about creating a wonderful learning experience for the learners.
So was there something about EDCMOOC that I was unhappy about ? Yes. The fact that it ended too soon, and I am not the only one suffering from the withdrawal symptoms. I have read comments on the social spaces from peers who feel the same way. The problem is, I now have to find something every evening to occupy my free time. I miss the EDCMOOC.