After six weeks of online video lectures, a host of resources to read, many of which I simply did not have time to get to, and of course the odd comment on the discussion forum, my MOOC is officially over. So how did I go and what is the verdict?
Back in January, I became part of the online education revolution that is happening in many of the world’s most prestigious universities (see blog post). Not knowing really what I was up for, completing a MOOC (massive open online course) was an official EMpression try and having worked in the agribusiness sector for most of my career, I decided to enrol in An Introduction to the US Food System: Perspectives from Public Health (Johns Hopkins University via Coursera) and it was that easy.
I started off pretty enthusiastically and by the time I gave a mid-course update last month I was still enthused but starting to find the time needed to really get into the course (especially all of the recommended readings) was pretty onerous and I was starting to fall behind.
As things turned out, I had several very busy weeks and the ability to log in whenever and wherever to the course was a godsend. I was often interrupted and so being able to pause and come back to lectures took out some of the stress. I typically did two weeks lectures in one day which meant I would have a fortnight relatively free before having to study again. The nature of this course with quite discrete topics each week made this approach viable but I could see that this might not be the case with a course that built up a knowledge and practice base week on week.
Weekly topics were typically split across 4-6 lectures delivered by a commentated slide presentation. The videos were easy to watch and I quickly fell into my undergrad pattern of feverishly taking notes. I have always found that the act of writing something down seems to instil it in my brain and my recall is then pretty good. In each lecture there were 2 or 3 multiple choice pop quizzes which acted as a check on my understanding as well as a reminder about the topic quizzes to come.
Weekly quizzes were set and these could be attempted 3 times (questions varied on each attempt) with one’s best score selected for grading purposes. A tick box Honour Code forms part of each quiz – this is obviously open to abuse, although I suspect that not many people would bother to hire a quiz double but perhaps I’m naive. A minimum 75% average across all quizzes was required to pass the course. The multiple choice quizzes were not particularly difficult but they did require clear subject matter knowledge. I admit to missing out on a couple of readings here and there and this cost me a couple of marks in the end. So if you are aiming for a perfect score you cannot ignore the readings. Quizzes typically take no longer than 15 mins and my tip is to complete the quiz as soon as you have finished the topic for the week to maximise your grade.
I received my Statement of Accomplishment on 7 March last week. Grades are given separately and can only be accessed on the Coursera website. I was satisfied with my result (95.6%) and the course overall, but in this I was in the minority. On average only around 10% of people who enrol in a MOOC go on to complete the course and attain a Statement of Accomplishment. Why the big drop? Obviously, a large number of people probably never intend to finish the course, they are just playing around without penalty. I assume for a number of enrolled students a course might simply not meet up to their expectations and there must be some out there who fail to make the 75% average grade (although not many if the quizzes are seriously attempted – they were not rocket science).
The MOOC concept is awesome in theory but like anything we all lose motivation and momentum in practice. MOOCs are just like any other form of study, they require more time than you think and often more time that you actually have. The number of courses offered and universities participating continues to grow and my guess is that MOOCs are likely to become a permanent fixture in online education. Six weeks ago around 2.5 million people had enrolled in courses with Coursera (there are other MOOC providers as well, see original blog post) and as I write this there are now 2,932, 046 Courserians. These volumes present enormous revenue opportunities and I have a sneaking feeling that a small enrolment fee and perhaps even another small fee on completion may well be introduced in the medium term. Perhaps MOOCs will evolve as extremely low-cost rather than free educational models but the principles of lowering barriers to quality education and equity of access still hold. As for MOOC course and grade relevance to future employers I think that may still be a way off being realised, if ever. MOOCs might be an interesting addition to your CV but don’t hold your breath for a promotion on the back of doing one.
Well the MOOC is over and I am ripe for my next try, all ideas are welcome, I have a couple of suggestions from a couple of you sitting on the backburner which is great but please keep them coming.
Postscript: I have already enrolled in my next MOOC (Gamification, offered through Wharton) and I plan to do all the readings this time (yeah right, I am sure I said that in each of my undergrad years as well)!