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What I Learned From Taking A Mooc

One day, everyone will remember their first MOOC.

Screen shot of Gamification: a MOOC on Coursera.org
Mine was and always will be Gamification on Coursera.org, by Professor Kevin Werbach, an Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. It was only the second run of the course and the first of its kind – a university-level course on the practice of gamification. Similar to MOOCs, gamification is in and of itself a phenomenon these days, so it was exciting to contribute to the improvement of both an emerging curriculum and learning platform as a novice student.

Similar to Edx’s blog post about What We’ve Learned From Teaching Moocs, I thought I’d write up a brief summary of What I Learned From Taking A Mooc:

There is No Such Thing As The Perfect Student In A MOOC

The course was structured like most MOOCs into weekly units, in which short 10-12 minute video lectures were made available. Ungraded checkpoints interrupted the videos that either prompted students to select a multiple choice answer or to think and discuss an idea later in the discussion forum. The required activities in order to pass the class were written assignments, quizzes, and a final exam. Given that there were about 63,000 (yes, THOUSAND) students from all over the world taking this course (!!) at once, the written assignments were graded via a peer evaluation system. Computers graded the multiple choice activities.

There was a fixed curriculum, but my pathway towards understanding was entirely my choice. I chose when I wanted to watch the lectures. It was my choice to what extent I wanted to engage further with my peers or to dive deeper into the content. It was even my choice whether to complete the graded assignments or not and pass the class. There was so much choice and customization of content for the learner, that even a score of 100% on the graded portions of the course “on paper” could not represent the learner’s entire experience. How do you measure that?

Students In MOOCS Are Not Dogs

Students in MOOCs, for the most part, want to help each other learn! The discussion forums were RICH with conversations not only about the material covered in the lectures, but ENriched with supporting material and provoking questions contributed by the students. I found myself spending (losing?) hours in these forums and at times overwhelmed even by the amount of learning going on there outside of the course syllabus. Students also created additional forums like MeetUps and Facebook pages on their own to support each other’s education. I was not intimidated by the anonymity of the people posting or competitive in any way with them, but instead I felt supported and encouraged by my peers. I think this is the single most powerful component of a MOOC – the ability to share your knowledge and love of learning with others to enrich your own and other people’s education. Isn’t that what teachers are supposed to do, too?

In TAs We Trust

I was able to get any of my technical or course-related questions answered promptly and accurately from any one of the global TA’s monitoring the discussion forums. It is certainly not possible for a professor to offer live office hours to over 60,000 students in whatever number of time zones, whether virtual or not, at once, but a couple of Google Hangouts were scheduled live with students who were selected based on their topic or question submission for the Hangout.

There’s No Failing In Massive Open Online Courses!

Well, actually there is, if you don’t do the required stuff to get the passing grade. BUT…if you don’t “get it” at first watch of the video lecture, well, just play it again! And again! Then tomorrow…watch it again! Don’t like the videos? Download and read the transcript as many times as you want! Still not sure? Ask a question in the Discussion Forum. Need help with your writing? Post it in the wiki for others to collaborate on. I took my own notes in Evernote alongside the lectures, but when I reviewed before quizzes, some of even my TYPED notes look like chicken scratch, so I went back and watched the lecture again. If I wasn’t happy with my first attempt at an assignment, I could submit new answers with a reasonable penalty. And if you DO fail the course in the end…guess what? The course material is still available to pre-registered students and the course is probably offered again the next semester. So just enroll…again. For FREE.

Commit Or Quit

I did recognize that because the course was free, and I wasn’t required to pass it, and my grade wasn’t compared to anyone else’s in the class, that in the back of my mind, the pressure was “off” to have to pass. The pressure was also off to not have to show up to class! I figured out how to schedule my time to space out the video lectures and assignments. Fortunately – cue kudos to Professor Werbach and his design team – the content and the delivery of the content was so interesting and engaging to me, personally, that I stayed committed. I am curious to see what the completion rate and the pass/fail statistics for the course were.

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