Sunday, August 11, 2013

Introduction to my blog

Given how many different iterations of moocreview I needed to try in order to find one that was still available I'm guessing that there are quite a few other blogs similar to this one. My goal here will be to review individual mooc courses as I take them, as well as review some of the courses I have already completed.

I believe that I have an interesting perspective with respect to moocs, being a teacher myself but also someone who has a lot of experience with online learning. I go into more detail about that in my post A MOOC Overview so I won't discuss that here.

My motivation for writing this blog is twofold. The first is that many courses are now being offered for the second or third time (or even more). When I first started taking moocs I was often taking the first iteration so until the second or third week I really had no idea if it was something worth taking or not. In these reviews I will try to be as detailed as possible and talk about both the good and bad points, in my opinion, for each course. I will also try to mention areas that have been improved upon in future iterations of the course. I hope that this will give readers an opportunity to decide if they want to take a course before spending a few hours watching video lectures or doing readings.

My second motivation is what really drove me to start this blog, and that is to highlight what I think are some huge errors in course design, as well as things that I believe work well. As I write this I am taking a course on Coursera called Mathematical Biostatistics Boot Camp. This is at least the second time it has been offered. I find the subject very interesting and it is presented at a high level (that is they aren't cherry-picking only the easy material to teach) but many people have been complaining about the difficulty of the course. The material itself is not very difficult at all if you have an understanding of calculus but the design of the course is terrible for a mooc. The reason that it is so difficult for people is that the professor generally uploads a weeks worth of lecture videos of about 15-30 minutes in length, then each week gives a homework assignment of about 10 problems and a quiz that is very similar. For students that have a textbook, study groups, access to a professor maybe this is adequate but for mooc students who only have access to the video lectures and the assigned work this is severely lacking. Compare that to the UPenn calculus course where there was a homework assignment for each video lecture (so approximately 10 problems per video and perhaps 5-10 videos per week) and you can see a huge difference. For what its worth I also thought the calculus course could have used some more problem sets.

You could actually learn calculus from that mooc as you could from a traditional college course using just the materials provided. The same can not be said for the mathematical statistics moocs. You would need to supplement it with significant outside learning in order to even begin to approach a strong grasp of the material. It is my hope, albeit a lofty one, that this blog might influence those who are creating moocs to take certain things into account when designing their courses. Moocs have tons of potential but they have to be approached in a different manner than you would approach a traditional classroom setting. If you fail to do that you fail your students.

One criticism I will try not to make is with respect to difficulty. Some courses are offered at the same level of rigor as the corresponding college course and some are at a much more basic level. Some reviewers have pointed to courses like these as a failure of moocs and try to draw the conclusion that they are nothing more than edutainment. I wonder what these people actually did in college. When I was a student I remember having access to seminars, workshops and survey courses that provided the same low level that some of these moocs offer. As an example, the Coursera course on Internet History was one of the courses I enjoyed the most but it was also one of the most basic. The goal of the course wasn't to make me a network technician, a hacker or even an internet historian. It's goal was to give you a brief understanding of how the internet came about as well as a very basic overview of the way that it works. I think it succeeded. If a course brands itself as an upper level course but fails to meet those standards I will point it out, but if it presents itself as an overview I won't expect it to require a Master's level knowledge to complete.

With that being said, I hope you enjoy these reviews and find them helpful in planning your journey through a new world of fun and learning!

No comments:

Post a Comment