This is the first week of a new MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) on coursera.org, E-learning and Digital Cultures (edcmooc) organised by the team who run the MSc on E-learning and distance education at the University of Edinburgh. So far the experience has been stimulating, exciting and just a little overwhelming.
This is also, though, a bit of an experiment in blending online and face-to-face learning. As well as participating online alongside the 40,000 who are enrolled, four of us from my small university will be doing the course together. We are from different departments, and have different roles (lecturing, admissions and widening participation, and IT). Many claims are being made about MOOCs, but they are certainly something with which traditional universities are going to have to engage.
I recently completed another course on the site, Cryptography I designed by Dan Boneh of Stanford. That was an excellent course, very structured with video lectures and regular problem sets and programming assignments. It had active user forums, and encouraged active learning, but was very instructor-led (appropriately, for the subject material), and confined to the Coursera site. Edcmooc is different.
The course started before the course started, with activity on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Last Saturday, there was a Twitter chat (#edcmchat) with more than 130 users and over 1,100 tweets sent in an hour. more than 3,600 tweets have now been sent using the course hashtag #edcmooc. I have now given up any attempt to keep up with activity on the other social networking sites, but my email account was being swamped by notifications from the course’s Google+ community, before I turned these off.
On the site, the experience is also different. The course leaders have provided links to online articles and videos illustrating and exploring the main themes (Utopias and Dystopias for the first two weeks, then on to the experience of being human and posthuman). But there are no quizzes, no problem sets. Instead, the instructors kick off discussion, and intervene occasionally. The feel is more virtual unconference than virtual lecture theatre, with participants expected to organise their own learning. Instead of an exam at the end, we are expected to produce a “digital artefact” relevant to some of the themes of the course, and make it available online.
The course overall does feel like a bit of an experiment in ways of doing learning, and inevitably there are some people who “get” it and others who do not. But it is an interesting and worthwhile experiment, I think.