Tag: coursera

Recent MOOCs I Have Taken & How They Helped Me on the Job

haul_moonI am currently enrolled in two MOOCs, and recently completed a couple of others.  I am impressed with the increased quality of MOOCs in the past two years.  I remain uninterested in the naysayers who feel  MOOCs threaten their hegemony in higher education or other doomsayer predictions.  Rather, I continue to see MOOCs as a supplement to other forms of education and an excellent means for micro-credentials.  The four courses I am taking or recently completed that benefit my current employment include:

  • Irish Lives in War and Revolution: Exploring Ireland’s History 1912-1923 taught out of the University of Dublin is the first MOOC I have taken from Future Learn. I took the course out of basic interest – the lifelong learning that is in vogue among us baby boomers – and was impressed with the video, text and resource offerings quality.  The course was meaty.  Had I run through just all the online resources provided, the quality and quantity would have exceeded a typical upper level UG course.  I was also pleased that the discussion boards were far superior to my previous experiences. I paid $40.00 for the certificate, simply because I wanted to support what I considered a quality offering.  Given the demographics of who takes MOOCs, it might prove a worthwhile marketing strategy to promote verified certificates beyond proof of accomplishment, to include those who support the process.  This MOOC demonstrated to me the simplicity in putting together quality and engaging content that is not beyond the means of a small institution on a limited budget.
  • I am currently enrolled in another Future Learn MOOC Behind the Scenes of the Twenty-First Century Museum taught out of the University of Leicester’s Museum Studies Graduate Program.  I registered for this course because it is the first MOOC I have seen that specifically deals with museum practices.  Initially I was rather skeptical about the course relevance.  I anticipated that the content would be very introductory in scope and content.  I was completely wrong.  By far this is my favorite MOOC taken to date.  The course content is excellent.  Several of the video lectures and online readings will show up on my syllabus for the Museum Practices graduate seminar I will teach again this fall.  The lecturers include individuals whose texts I have assigned for the past five years in class.  Perhaps most enjoyable are the discussion boards.  I have exchanged links, ideas, experiences with professionals and students from South Africa, Finland, the UK and the US.  The discussion is excellent.  I have learned a great deal that will be applied in my professional practice both in museums and in the classroom.  I am getting more out of this MOOC than most professional meetings I attend.  This course certainly demonstrates the possibilities of MOOCs in continuing education contexts.
  • I completed most of the Store Design, Visual Merchandising and Shopper Marketing MOOC from Iversity.  My reason for taking the course was to get ideas for the store in the museum where I am the director.  The staff member who runs the store also enrolled in the course.  We both agreed the MOOC provided some useful information, but most of the content was not relevant to our specific interests.  To me, this MOOC was similar to the first one’s I took a couple of years ago – basically a talking head, conveniently promoting his text each week, and those miserable multiple guess questions where one needs to select 3 of 4 poorly worded correct answers – that I quickly give up in frustration.  I only completed four of the six weeks because of other commitments and a waning interest.
  • I am currently enrolled in Content Strategy for Professionals 2: Expanding Your Content’s Impact and Reach from Northwestern University on the coursera platform.  Twice I had started Part 1 of this MOOC and quit half-way through because of the case study (something about selling a brand of suits in China) that I just could not get my head around.  In the Part 2 of the MOOC the case study assignments are based on the participants institution/business.  I am thoroughly enjoying the content and process.  This MOOC is extremely helpful to me as we continue to develop our museum audience.  I find the MOOC even more essential as I think through my responsibilities with PIARA, the nonprofit I work with in Peru.  The course description includes:  “In this, the second Content Strategy MOOC, participants will go deeper. They will learn actionable ways to grow internal and external audiences.  They will deepen their understanding about those target individuals and will use a host of known and emerging tools and social networks to meaningfully reach them. They will also learn how to measure and improve the impact of their efforts with quantitative and qualitative metrics.

As a practicing museum professional and university professor, the above are how I find MOOCs integral to my career.  I am particularly impressed with the increased quality of MOOC offerings over the past couple of years, especially as exemplified by Future Learn.  So far as I can tell, the dire warnings from the nattering nabobs of negativism about the evils of MOOCs remain without merit.

How Museums Are Like MOOCs, Part 1

stoneI am a strong advocate for user-generated content, such as Wikipedia, and open on-line content like MOOCS. I remain somewhat amused but mostly incredulous at the “sky is falling” folks who still bemoan this trend in knowledge sharing.

In my dealings within academia, over the past five years the discussion has gone from “online courses might work well, in x department, but not in our department, where face-to-face interaction is critical because . . . (fill in the blank) ” to the present day where most departments are at least experimenting with some form of  blended classes.  Now I particularly enjoy noting that students who I encouraged (or insisted/demanded) to enroll in remedial MOOC writing courses have dramatically improved writing skills.  Even my doubter colleagues realize that such improvements make their instructor jobs easier when reading through a stack of 10-page student papers.

I had a bit of an “aha” moment on all of this while listening to a To The Point podcast a few weeks ago.  The topic was Massive Open Online Courses, MOOC’s: The Future of Education?  The naysayers primary complaints expressed on the podcast rest with a lack of faculty control of MOOC content and whether MOOCs even work as an educational tool.  My suspicion is that those in the upper-echelons of MOOC and MOOC-like developments find these complaints rather amusing as the NeoLuddites of higher education make their last futile gasps to preserve the good old days.

But the source of my “aha” came from a different objection to MOOCs raised on the podcast.  The naysayers also point to the low completion rates of MOOCs.  Depending on how you cut it, as few as 5% of the tens of thousands of individuals who might enroll in a single course end up completing all the assignments.  In the past, my response to this objection was that even with a low rate of completion, if 1000 students finished the course, quantitatively, that is still a good number for a single professor’s course.  Further, if those 1000 paid say 25.00 per head for a high-end certificate of completion (known as the signature track in coursera-speak) seemingly that is an economic model that could ultimately sustain the venture long-term.

But then something happened to me and the “aha” struck.  I recently registered for the MOOC Content Strategy For Professionals: Engaging Audiences for Your Organization.  The course seemed ideal to explore a strategic orientation for engaging museum audiences.  At coursera.org, when registering for courses, one is asked to state if they intend to do all the readings, watch all the videos, and complete all the assignments.  As usual, I dutifully checked all the “yes” boxes.  The first set of lectures was fantastic.  I enjoyed them so much I ordered the textbook from Amazon.com immediately.  This MOOC presented the precise information I sought.  I reasoned the book would be a great supplement.  However, the assignment that constituted 70% of the MOOC course grade was about developing a content strategy model around a clothing campaign – not a project that resonated with me.  I decided I was not going to complete the assignment and therefore, not complete the requirements for the certificate.  In so doing, I was going to be part of the 95% statistic the naysayers suggest are MOOC failures.

A few days later I registered for the The History and Future of (mostly) Higher Education taught by Cathy Davidson that I reported on last week.  Upon registering, I checked the “no” boxes on my intent for completing the readings, videos, and assignments.  I actually wasn’t even certain if I wanted to watch anything of the MOOC beyond the lecture that piqued my interest – Teaching Like it’s 1992.  This registration marked a real shift in my thinking.  Previously, before registering for a MOOC I always read the syllabus and determined if I had enough time to complete the course requirements.  In this instance, I knew I wanted to listen to at least one lecture, but was not going to make a commitment to the entire seven week offering.  That decision was very liberating and instructive for me.  Again, from the linear perspective of registering for the course, completing all the tasks on the syllabus, taking the final test, and getting a final grade, the naysayers will argue this MOOC also did not work for me.

But I object.  Both MOOCs gave me exactly the information and training I sought.  So how can that be translated as the MOOCs not working?

Part of the answer to that question is found in Professor John Levine’s  Introductory Lecture for the Content Strategy MOOC where he notes:

Let me tell you a few important things about this MOOC, however. First since it is for professionals, there’ll be no grades and no tests.  It’s not a college course, it’s a program for you as a professional to master.  And then be able to use what you learn here and take it back to work.

That very statement addresses a point raised in a Ted Talk by Peter Norvig, a pioneer in the MOOC field.  Norvig states that “everyone is both a learner and a teacher.”  This understanding fits well within the understanding of MOOCs as integral components of informal, lifelong and free-choice learning.  As Norvig further discusses, this understanding places MOOC’s beyond the limits of traditional academia.  Of note, the naysayers rarely, if ever, address this point that Norvig raises.  I suspect the lack of input is because the naysayers perceive education from the pre-1992 paradigm.

Museums function in the same way.  As a general statement, in a museum you can come enter at any point along the path.  You are not required to read every label.  You are not tested before you leave the building.  But, you can engage with what you want for as long as you want.

Next week I want to explore the implications of the Museum as MOOCs.

Do you draw similar parallels between MOOCs and cultural heritage venues?

(Note:  In a preemptive response: 1) I would gladly pay 10.00 for either of the MOOCs noted above. 2) I am well aware that there are MOOC disasters out there.  The venture is new.  coursera.org is two years old.  I am certain a time traveling fly on the wall would hear all the same objections to Gutenberg’s first printing press in the 1400s.

An Evaluation of Coursera as Public Outreach

Shaker rattle from Uganda

I have posted several times lately about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) such as offered through coursera.org.  In those posts I stuck to a general discussion of MOOCs, holding off on evaluative statements until I completed a course.  So, yesterday I took the final exam for my first coursera.org MOOC: Listening to World Music taught by Professor Carol Muller at the University of Pennsylvania.  Here are some thoughts:

The academic level for the course was on a junior/senior undergraduate level.  I spent 4 – 8 hours per week watching video lectures, YouTube clips, searching for internet resources, writing essays, and taking quizzes.  Based on the grading scheme, I will end up with a B+ or so, a reasonable grade for the effort I expended.  I could have earned an A except I blew off the 100 question multiple guess final exam by not reviewing any of my notes to refresh my memory on what is a hocket, who employs them, whether an event happened in 1996 or 1998 etc.

  • Overall, the lecture content was quite good.  I learned a lot.  As an anthropologist, I was disappointed by what I perceived as some rather convoluted statements on cultural development, notions of authenticity, and so forth.  But I know ethnomusicologists are equally disappointed in my inability to distinguish between polyphonic and heterophonic textures.
  • But . . . my disappointment is precisely where the class discussion forums provided an outstanding opportunity to engage.  For example, on the concept of authenticity, I had excellent discussions with students and “staff” for the course.  I was particularly impressed with the diversity of  responses as the majority of students were from outside the United States.  Although data were not published for the Listening to World Music class, for another coursera offering on Gamification, U.S. participation was one-third of the student body.  As a general statement, the level and quality of engagement in the discussion forums was in line with first year graduate level seminars.  I was quite pleased with this aspect of the course.
  • Each week participants chose one of four questions/topics and submitted a 700 – 1000 word essay on same.  The essays required synthesizing lecture content, built sequentially throughout the 7-week course, and drew on personal experiences.  In this regard, the student diversity was particularly insightful.
  • Based on my Listening to World Music experience and reviewing the requirements of other offerings, I dropped a couple of courses for which I had previously registered.  Simply the quality and effort required for these MOOC courses is considerably more than I originally imagined.  I note that the course descriptions at coursera.org now include an estimated time commitment per week.  I really cannot manage taking more than one course at a time.  Fortunately, the schedule of courses and breadth of offerings is such that at the present rate, I will be kept busy for quite a while before I run through all the courses that interest me or will be helpful in my career.

Here is what I found did not work in the Listening to World Music course:

  • The peer review of the weekly essays was perhaps the weakest part of the experience.  This finding is consistent with other MOOC reviews I have read.  The evaluations ranged from the silly (requirement of 2 -3 paragraphs of up to 1000 words, but having points deducted when the evaluator counted a block quote as a separate paragraph making the total 4 even though word count was under 800) to the unhelpful (“very good but I would like to have seen more”).  Ultimately, I followed the solution of other folks who posted portions of their essays in the discussion forums to meaningfully engage.
  • Anonymity on two levels was problematic.  First, for essay evaluations peer review anonymity is problematic simply because there is not an opportunity for further discussion with the writer one is evaluating.  There were several essays I evaluated where I would have liked following up with the writer on some of their insightful comments.  Second, in the discussion forums, students can post anonymously.  Consistently, folks who posted inflammatory or troll-like responses did so anonymously.  In the instances where posters were questioned on their anonymity, they explained anonymity as their right, blah, blah, blah. Signing as Anonymous relegates comments to the great “they said” of discussions and seems completely out of place.  I hope coursera.org will deal with this issue.
  • The professors and graduate assistants taking the leap into teaching these courses are to be congratulated for their pioneering efforts.  I expect that technical issues will improve, such as Prof Muller’s problems with pointing out locations on digital maps.  The graduate assistant discussions needed work as they sometimes mumbled through important course information, looking down at their notes/iPads while speaking, greatly reducing the effectiveness of delivery.  Perhaps coursera should offer a coursera course on how to deliver a coursera course presentation?

So what has any of this got to do with public outreach for archaeology or museums:

  • The demographic data of the Gamification course offering are quite interesting.  Sixty percent of the participants took the course because of “interest in the subject matter, without a particular educational/business rationale”  Only 15% took the course because “it relates to my educational program.”  MOOCs also offer opportunities for those yet to find a place at the higher education table.  This MOOC reality is contrary to the “sky is falling” concerns expressed by some in higher education.  I am hopeful that coursera will make public such data as they start rolling in from completed courses.
  • Although the MOOC concept will inevitably, and rightly so, find its place within the formal structure of  higher education, as the coursera founders note, taking over all of the 30 seat lecture classes is not there intent.  I don’t really see a hidden agenda here.  Peter Norvig, a pioneer in MOOCs argues that coursera is about the democratization of knowledge and addressing the needs of lifelong learners.
  • In this capacity, think of the opportunities for a MOOC offering on the Introduction to Archaeology as a resource for those with an “interest in the subject matter, without a particular educational/business rationale.”  Or we can abstain from such mass opportunities and leave it to the American Digger.  The same is true for a MOOC offering on the Introduction to Museum Practices.  Would the American Alliance of Museums (until two weeks ago the 100-year-old American Association of Museums) be well served in its decade old campaign of Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums to consider such a form of outreach?

How do you envision that MOOC-like opportunities can be effectively used in your public outreach efforts?

A response to A Practical Response to Massive Open Online Courses

This past week I attended the webinar A Practical Response to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS).  The webinar defined MOOCS as everything from iTunes U to the edX initiative of Harvard and MIT.  Here are a webinar resource list and a link that compare the range of MOOCs.  Seven Things You Should Know About MOOCs provides the basics that can be ingested in 5 minutes.  Also, I previously blogged about MOOCs.

The webinar title suggests a less than favorable overall assessment of MOOCS.  The 60 minute webinar bore out that expectation.  I won’t expend much figuritive ink on the bias except to note a couple of points.  The moderator’s near fanaticism in noting that “elite” institutions led MOOC initiatives was overkill.  The same was true for references to the “hype” around MOOCs.   The moderator’s comparison of MOOCs to the Oprah Book Club suggested the webinar would be as “fair and balanced” as Fox News.

Here are a few things the webinar coupled with my MOOC experience got me to thinking about:

Who are MOOCs for?  The obvious answer is potentially everyone with internet access.  As of June 2010 this means 77% of the United States population with no state at less than 60%.  A tremendous potential of MOOCs is the ability to engage in informal, free-choice, and lifelong learning, concepts today in the forefront of museum discussions.  Outstanding reports from the Center for the Future of Museums are available on these topics.  Academic sponsorship of MOOCs responds to this social need.  A good bit of the critique of MOOCs rests in their perceived impact on traditional academic degree models.  The perception is greatly inflated.  Coursera is one of the more successful MOOCs at this time.  Their home page notes that you can “Improve your resume, advance your career, expand your knowledge, and gain confidence by successfully completing one of our challenging university courses.”  All of that is true.  I believe that making such coursework available to all citizens, in their homes/libraries leads to increased civic engagement.  For academia to argue otherwise is self-serving.

What About MOOC content?  The criticism of MOOC content is difficult to take seriously.  For MOOC courses taught by tenured professors at Princeton, Harvard, or any other institution, one might reasonably assume that the content will reflect those very credentials.  I did not complete the Human Computer Interaction course I previously blogged about specifically because of the course content.  As opposed to alleged comparability to the Oprah Book Club, I dropped the course because I could not keep up with assignments that  required peer-interaction and review.  The course was more about the subject than I wanted.  I do look forward to other courses I have registered for that are more relevant to my research and career interests.

How can MOOCs be sustained economically?  The panelists were surprised that the biggest reason webinar respondents gave for liking MOOCs was that the offerings were open or free, causing one panelist to ponder “perhaps” we should be examining the cost of higher education.  As I often argue in my blogs, when our institutions demonstrate their relevance to the public that they serve, that relevance will be translated into economic support.  For example, in the case of the C.H. Nash Museum, over the past five years, we have moved from a position of extracting resources to inserting resources into the community in consultation with the community based on their expressed interests and needs.  When it comes time for the public of our community to demand of the elected officials support for programs, we are now in a much better position to receive that support.  I don’t see this as opportunism, rather, as living into our mission as an institution created to serve the public.

MOOCs, whether manifested as iTunes U, Coursera.org, edX, Ted talks, or the Oprah Book Club, ultimately operate from the same starting point.  In his book Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky (2010:98) writes “Interpretations that focus on technology miss the point: technology enables those behaviors, but it doesn’t cause them . . . no one want e-mail for itself, any more than anyone wants electricity for itself; rather, we want the things electricity enables.”   In the same way MOOCs is a technology that enables the publics desire for Massive Online Open Courses.  If this is wrong, then MOOCs or whatever they evolve into, will fail.  If the behavior is real, then all the hand-wringing and excuses will not stop them from succeeding.

What are your thoughts on MOOCs?

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