My last couple of posts may have come across as me being critical of MOOCs. I’m not, although I do have criticisms around how some of the MOOCs are implemented and whether they’re as disruptive and innovative as they claim to be, but I’ll save those thoughts for another post. I like MOOCs and just to prove the point, I’ve started another three this week: Computing for Data Analysis, Social Network Analysis and Writing in the Sciences, making a total of four courses. Actually, it would be five if I’d ever started the Introduction to Sustainability course as well. Luckily, the workload will drop over the next two or three weeks as courses end, but I’m feeling a little like the MOOC dial has been turned all the way up to eleven, so I may drop a course if it proves too much.
Writers are told that if they want to write well they need to read voraciously, so should I want to ‘write’ a MOOC in the future ‘reading’ so many is a positive advantage. Coursera as a brand isn’t a monolithic whole – the way that each course is presented varies quite a lot. In one course I’m doing the videos are basically presentations with an audio soundtrack and a short ‘talking head’ sequence at the start. In Statistics One, the videos show the instructor (tablet and stylus in hand) and the slides in the background which the video cuts away to when necessary. Some courses have certificates of completion while others don’t. In some the discussions in the forums are a key pedagogical feature, while in others the forums function more like a helpdesk. The Social Network Analysis course steps outside the Coursera box by having its own Twitter account.
A new feature I’ve noticed this week is the concept of late days. Each student has a number of late days that they can spend on extending the deadline for an assignment, which means no more missed deadlines because Saturday is going to be taken up with Aunty Ethel’s birthday party. This is great because it’s such a simple concept, and shows how online learning should take account of a student as a human being, a person with a real life of normality enlivened with the occasional triumph and disaster. It takes account of the student beyond their existence as an educational entity and allows flexibility in the course to accommodate that. So this week, I’d like to finish on a positive note: a round of applause for late days please.