Reflections on my first two Coursera courses

Well, I just finished two coursera courses (actually I finished them a little bit ago, but am blogging my reflections now… so it goes).  I took one course on Vaccines and another on the Affordable Care Act.  I am fairly certain I will get certificates in each, meaning I did well enough on enough of the required work to get a little email saying I rock and completed their course successfully.  My goal was not really to get these certificates as I don’t “need” them for anything, but it turns out I did feel quite a bit torn when a particular coarse started up that I could not invest time in without abandoning these two courses half-way through.  I  am still not sure why I didn’t jump ship and just take this other course, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I suppose I do know more about each topic now than I did at the beginning of the summer. But, I take some issue with several aspects of these courses that I want to lay out for you here.

First, the vaccines course was not clear as to how long it would run.  I think it was advertised as about five weeks but it ran many more than that.

For both courses, “knowledge” flowed in mostly one direction (professor –> me).  This, to me, does not seem to invoke the opportunities afforded by the technology.  Really it was just rather dull (despite Zeke Emanuel’s enthusiastic manner) to be talked at.
I did not feel as though I had the time or energy to engage on the discussion forums for either course and I did not find that when I did mosey over to them that they would prove at all useful.

As for assessment, something that is difficult no matter the platform, I found I could get away with high school level “learn enough to do super well on the exam” for both classes, particularly once I saw how the rubrics worked.  The vaccines course allowed you to take a quiz on each lecture up to 1000 times.  Yes, 1-0-0-0.  I never tried more than twice, and often got 100% on the first try by listening to the lecture and taking the quiz at the same time.  However, the ACA course did something different – and for a period of time, interesting.  We  had to grade five of our peer’s homework assignments each week to get full credit on our own assignment.  This was kind of neat at first, and indeed, over time they incorporated some useful changes to how the peer review worked (by the end you could comment to the person you were grading rather than just assign a number, and you could submit comments to the instructors).  But I took issue with many of the assignments, particularly in the middle of the course where assignments on a few topics showed up before the lectures on those topics were released to us!  Clearly, this course was just a trimmed down version of the course offered in the spring of 2012 for Penn students, so I wonder at their inability to line up their materials and assignments properly!

Course envy struck me big time mid-way through my semester.  I had signed up for Introduction to Finance, and when it started I listened to the introductory “hello and welcome” videos by Gautam Kaul.  Argh!  Here was a guy who sounded like a fabulous teacher – someone who believed in his subject and the value of his course. Someone who had thoughtfully planned out the syllabus and assignments.  And then I read this.  Andy Burkhardt is a wonderfully thoughtful blogger-librarian and I love reading his posts.  He starts off by explaining the feel of the Intro to Finance course after the first four weeks:

And even though I’m not quantitatively inclined, I am loving taking this course despite the work and number crunching. It was something outside of my training and education, and it gave me the opportunity to open myself up to a different perspective.

Well, he goes on to explain why librarians in particular should be involved in MOOCs, but what I loved was that he felt like he was engaging with the materials in a hands-on manner.  I think the two courses I felt weren’t fully amenable to that and I think I’d enjoy a course with some math or something I had to work out on paper.

Finally, I had a problem this summer – a good problem to have – and that was that I traveled quite a bit towards the end of it.  For weddings, conferences and family vacations.  This is a lovely thing, but I did find it difficult to listen to all the lectures during some of the weeks I was out of town.  This is not something I suppose I should complain about, but I did want to mention it.  If I were purely concerned with learning and not concerned about the certificate, this really shouldn’t matter.  Though, I do think if you missed an opportunity to submit an assignment or quiz you were not allowed to after the deadline passed.

So, that brings me to the end of my post.  What next?  I have a few courses I’m thinking about taking in earnest, but if I were to focus on something like Introduction to Finance, I think I could only handle taking one at a time (I *do* work during the day, after all).  This is a very famous MOOC on the Current & Future State of Higher Education.  I say famous because many in the MOOC world criticizing the recent trendiness of MOOCs point to George Siemens, whose course that is, as someone who has been innovating in this sphere for a long time.  So, I’m interested in checking that out.  I’ve signed up and it is slated to start in October.

On Coursera, I’m interested in these courses which start in the next few months (minus the first one):

  • Introduction to Finance – just because I missed it in real time doesn’t mean I can’t go back and learn from the videos and (hopefully?) submit assignments?  I’m not entirely sure, but that’s part of my plan:  consider the value of the archive of this course.  All assignments were graded via computers, so it should be possible for me to do this!
  • Securing Digital Democracy:  This has already started.  It’s only 5 weeks, and is something I’m moderately interested in – particularly as election season is coming up!  This could be one where I simply listen to some of the lectures one Saturday afternoon after it finishes.
  • Model Thinking:  This course has also already started.  I like the first “hello and welcome” lecture, and I think this might get me to bust out a pencil and paper and do some actual thinking.  +1 for it.  But, it’s 10 weeks long.  If something else were quite good, I might have to back away from this.
  • A History of the World Since 1300:  Ah, my alma mater!  This is the kind of course I could see myself listening to on CD were the lectures available via The Teaching Company’s Great Lectures series, which I love to check out from my local public library.  I could see myself not doing the assignments but listening to lectures on weekends (hmm, my weekends are rapidly filling up with lectures – see my problem?).
  • Introduction to Logic:  I think this could seriously challenge my attention for Model Thinking.  I may start out with Model Thinking and see how the first week of Logic goes.
  • Introduction to Operations Management:  I don’t think I’ll stick with this one, but it’s outside the realm of anything I’ve ever taken, so I did want to listen to the first week and see if it could be useful or interesting.
  • Greek & Roman Mythology:  One of my very good friends here in Ann Arbor is a Classics graduate student.  I love hearing about her research and I saw this and thought “ah, another one for listening to lectures on the weekends.”  We’ll see.

So.  I originally titled this post “Brief reflections…” but had to delete brief.  As always, I have droned on.  What do you think?  Have you taken a massive online course?  What do you think?


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