MOOCs: Think Again

By now you have likely heard about MOOCs in the news.  They are Massive Open Online Courses and if you’re not quite sure what this is all about, you might want to read more about them in this NY Times article,  The Year of the MOOC.

As the name suggests these courses are indeed massive with hundreds and thousands of students enrolling in them.   They are also open…which means free.   So how is this possible?  What is it like to take a course with thousands of others?  Can you really learn in this environment?  And how do you teach that many students?   These are probably some of the same questions you might be asking yourselves. 

In order to better understand these MOOCs, I decided that the best thing to do was to enroll in one.  After quickly dismissing a MOOC on artificial intelligence, I settled on Coursera’s 12-week course, Think Again: How to Reason and Argue which began right after Thanksgiving.  This course is co-taught by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong,  Professor of Practical Ethics in the Philosophy Department at Duke University, and  Ram Neta, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  I am one of over 170,000 students world-wide who are in this class.   As I began this endeavor I was immediately impressed with the simplicity of the design of course as well as the quality of the video lectures.   The videos are not over-produced (i.e. commercial quality) but effective none-the less.  Professor Sinnott-Armstrong is skilled at making connections with his audience so I feel like he is talking to me which is particularly beneficial in a class this size.

While I am gaining a better understanding of how a MOOC works,  I find myself wondering about other facets of this new delivery model.  How do they manage that many students?  What kind of analytics do they use to measure student progress?  Why do so many people drop out of the courses?  And how do they offer “credentials” if a student requests it?   Discussions on such questions are cropping up as we all try to figure out where MOOCs will fall on the educational landscape.  Last week, Doug Guthrie wrote an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education,  Jump Off the Coursera Bandwagon (12/17/12) which highlights some of the issues and concerns. 

MOOCs are a new frontier and we probably all have something to learn from them.  I am nearing the half-way point of the Think Again course and I am admittedly falling behind.   But this is OK.  I can complete the course at my own pace as long as I have completed all of the required tasks by March 11th! 

After Note: 
You can learn more about Coursera from a Ted Talk by Daphne Koller (co-founder of Coursera): What we’re learning from online education