MOOCs are free but you must invest time

First, a confession. I am among the 95 percent who don’t complete the massive open online – and free – university courses (MOOCs) so easily signed up for. I have registered for three, but I’ve only really been able to dig into one. That one is the University of Edinburgh’s course on E-Learning and Digital Cultures. The four-week course just started yesterday. I read the introduction and some of the Week One text material on my iPhone on the Tube into London yesterday morning. Tonight, after an already long day, I’m opening it up on a laptop to take a closer look.

The course is excellent, cleverly interactive, engaging and very community focused. It’s also going to be a lot of work if I want to do it right.

No surprises there, I guess. But I still have the same question: is it worth having massive numbers of people registering who will only get a tiny bit of benefit? It’s still too early to tell.

Here’s why I like this particular course on the Coursera platform. First, it’s well resourced. There are five instructors listed as creators and leaders. It’s also got a real-world equivalent, a group of in-person post-graduate students at the University of Edinburgh who are helping collate commentary on the course discussion forum and the course Twitter feed, but also learning about the learning that’s going on online. They are using social media in a targeted, clever way with a YouTube channel, a Google+ page, and a Twitter-fall for their hashtag #edcmooc. They are deploying a very interesting tool called (am I the last to know?). You can watch the course videos on your own or you can watch them on synchtube at a scheduled time as an event and chat with other students as you watch.

Week One kicks off with a “film festival.” After a short text introduction there are four videos, three of them animated cartoons, from two to eight minutes long. Somewhat odd and abstract, the videos and questions after them are structured to make the student think about the difference between the glories of technology – utopia – and the horrors of technology – dystopia. You watch the videos, and are prompted with questions to comment on Twitter or the discussion board.

That is followed by a long reading list, which the instructors say focuses on the early days of e-learning, 1998-2002. That dates me, since I led a great team of journalists and educators in launching an online news-as -education publication in 1994.

Nonetheless, the reading list for this course is academic. These are not just fun videos. The theme of the articles is Technological Determinism. Does technology condition social change? Hobbes and Rousseau are quoted. There are footnotes and related links. This is where the hard, but rewarding, real work comes in; where you read and absorb new ideas and then try them out in writing or discussion.

Fortunately, I have all week for this reading assignment before the class meets up on Google Hangout on Friday to chat about what it all means.

It may seem obvious, but the big lesson is that to get the most out of the MOOCs you need to make time for them.


About Katie King

Literary Translator, Journalist, Media Professional, Professor. Currently working toward PhD in Hispanic Studies at the University of Washington.
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2 Responses to MOOCs are free but you must invest time

  1. dpedeva says:

    Thank you for your blog. I am also one of those who sign up and do not complete Coursera courses. I also agree that the E-learning and Digital Cultures course seems more engaging and better-structured than other Coursera courses. I also like the fact that they do not have recorded videos but rather use short films and a good selection of readings. I do not see watching a talking head as a particularly effective method of teaching.

  2. nealschmitt says:

    Interesting post. Academic is right. Having a hard time digesting the reading material. I’m of the percentage that would rather make the cartoon and let everyone else discuss.

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