Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What I Learned from my MOOC Experience

As I wrote in my last post, I recently completed a MOOC class for the first time.  In my previous post, I wrote about what I had learned about taking online classes from this experience in learning about Alexander the Great.  The focus of this post will be what I learned about facilitating learning in an online environment by taking this course.

The first thing that I learned is to make assignments not merely relevant but transparent.  Each week in my course our professor, Guy Maclean Rogers, started the week with an overview of the topic we would be covering.  This included links to any readings that we would be doing as well as essential questions to think about as we did our work.  There were no surprises as to what was expected.  This no surprises policy even went to the courseware. At the top of each lesson was a menu bar that showed all of the elements that you would be completing during the unit, with symbols for different types of activities.

The second lesson I learned was to keep lectures short, and if using video have it transcribed so students can choose to read the lecture instead of watch it.  This was one of the best features of the class.  Each video lecture was broken into shorter segments of 3-5 minutes around a common theme, with a transcribed version next to it so you could read instead of watching if you wished.  After each video, students were asked to answer a reflective question regarding the video, often either analyzing what occurred or giving an opinion on what happened.  They were then asked to comment on the posts of others, but not required to do so.

The third lesson was to give weekly updates and pep talks.  All of the feedback that I received on the course came from auto graded multiple choice quizzes and the end of each unit or from peers commenting on my posts.  The first type of feedback was immediate and helped me to see what I was retaining, but was not very intellectually meaty-the quizzes were like fast food in that they filled you up, but were not always a sustaining meal.  The second feedback, from classmates, was infrequent as the number of posts to read from others were overwhelming and comments were infrequent at best.  The class lacked a sense of community.  All of this being said, the weekly email I received from our instructor was gold.  He commented on posts that he was reading and discussions that were taking place among the students.  He encouraged us to stick with it, while giving updates on assignments and telling us what the next topic would be in a preview.  In short he gave us weekly pep talks to keep us going.

The final lesson learned was to truly have a successful course, you need to create community among the learners.  This was hard to find in my course, and in some ways I found the class less fulfilling than live classes because of it.  In the course that I am currently taking on Online and Blended Learning we have to comment on the posts of classmates, and their is a rubric for those posts so we can make sure we are giving substantial feedback to them.  Additionally, the class is small, so you don't feel overwhelmed looking through the posts of your classmates to comment.  Thus, if I were to teach a MOOC style course, I would break the large class into smaller groups so they can foster a community of learners.

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