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Notes from the Cloud: My MOOC Experience, Part 1.

Posted By Administrator, Monday, January 28, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

January 28th, 2013

When Tom Friedman writes in the New York Times about MOOCs, you know they’ve reached the level of national conversation, not just in education circles but "out there.”

How do we, the eportfolio community, consider, evaluate, understand, or encompass MOOCs?

I wrote an article about MOOCs and eportfolios a couple of weeks ago:

Go to, search for "MOOCs” and you will see dozens of articles about MOOCs. You can do the same at the New York Times site – Or at the Chronicle --

MOOCs are at the point where I felt I should register for a MOOC course. So, I did. I am new to the course, but I have some reactions to the course already.

I admit that I have been suspicious and nearly dismissive of MOOCs as "lectures writ large.” So, I went into the registration and discovery process for this particular MOOC, "An Introduction to the U. S. Food System,” taught from Johns Hopkins, with doubt.

What happened:

First, I was surprised at how easily I could find and sign up for this Coursera course. My registration was surprisingly simple and quick. I got email notifications and instructions. The home page interface for the course is immediately usable.

I was able to watch an introductory lecture with no glitches and good video production quality.

The readings, so far, are riveting and astonishing. As always, I find a well-designed course provides a library of readings that would be hard to come by otherwise. Having an expert in the field tell me, "these are the articles you need to read to understand the problems we will address in this course,” is invaluable.

I have, therefore, already become terrified by the food situation in the world!

I have the option, and was encouraged, to join the Forum. Well, forums have their problems: the number of new topics quickly grow and the conversation is therefore fragmented down a whole number of cul-de-sacs. Who is talking to whom? Sometimes, it is possible to track down an actual discourse thread and join that particular one. But, no matter what, the Forum for this course, with 12,000 students, is not only chaotic in organization but overwhelming in number.

I could probably study the forum and track down a few comments that interest me and try to talk to those people. And, I may do that.

I will need to take quizzes and stay on top of the lectures assiduously since the course lasts a mere 6 weeks. It could end while I am still catching up. If I pass all the quizzes and complete all requirements, I will get a certificate of completion.

Why do people take this course? I can’t quote the forum directly without permission from those who are posting, but I do see that many of the students are already in a related field to the subject of the course. Some say they hope to build on what they already know. Others say they may want to enter a course of study related to this field. And others have a strong agenda about sustainable food production and want to be heard. I was reluctant to admit, although I did, that I eat meat.

So far, I find the course much better than I expected. But, then, students are often very positive in the few week or so of a course before real work begins. Still, from a disinterested viewpoint, I am already forming opinions.

First, MOOCs are probably the real thing. The course is only a week or so into the 6 weeks and I will be very interested to scan the comments as the course moves along. But right now the course seems solid.

Second, technology and access are at the point where the technology is invisible. Everything worked easily and quickly. I did have to sign up for a free subscription to a journal to get to one of the readings, but that was a one-minute process. And the course information noted that I would have to subscribe to this particular journal.

Third, for those already familiar with the field of food productino, this format provides a good learning opportunity. Or for those, like me, a serious dilettante, er, renaissance man, it is equally valuable.

Fourth, I would feel uncomfortable taking a course like this in a brick-and-mortar classroom. I would seem out of place, a seasoned professor with a Ph.D., joining an introductory course. For me, then, the MOOC is ideal. MOOC advocates claim that these kinds of courses open learning opportunities to those who could not otherwise have any opportunities. It had not occurred to me that I was among that number.

Finally, the lecture format comes under fire. "Is this the best we can do?,” asks Cathy Davidson of HASTAC. I can in fact watch the lectures a number of times, or parts of the lectures. I can take the quizzes a number of times, using the quizzes as a learning opportunity – I hope they are telling me what is important to understand from the readings.

More generally, my strongest response to the "MOOC Mania” (Chronicle) is "this is not the replacement for college, it is just one more learning opportunity in the world of open learning.” We will not replace a predominant single model of learning with another predominant single model of learning. We are instead going from a near singularity to multiplicity. The burning question is not "will MOOCs put anyone out of business," but "how will MOOCs fit into our extant educational processes?"

Where are eportfolios in this? No where.

This very blog is my own eportfolio entry about my MOOC experience. Why don’t the students in my course have the opportunity to elect to pay for an eportfolio, if they choose to do so, to add greatly to the value of this experience? As I said in my Campus Technology article, the most obvious component of the MOOC – the eportfolio – is missing. Coursera should arrange to provide accounts through an existing eportfolio provider. Students in the course could choose, themselves, if they wanted to purchase an account.

Granted, the extra overhead to build in an eportfolio option is not insignificant. But I do hope to see some of the organizations providing MOOCs, including universities and colleges, offering that option.

More on this experience soon. Let me know what your own experience is.

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