Monday 17 June 2013

Me and the MOOC

MOOCs. Heard of them? Taken one? Wondering what I’m on about?

Massive Open Online Courses seem to be popping up all over the Internet right now. The idea is simple: using the Internet to run courses for free for large numbers of people. As one of my favourite blogs - Hack Education - puts it, MOOCs offer “… the promise of scaling a university education to everyone… well everyone with an Internet connection that is”. And it seems that when MOOCs say ‘massive', they mean it, with Inside Higher Ed reporting that over 1.5 million people have registered for MOOCs. Last year, more than 160,000 students around the globe signed up for a free online course in artificial intelligence offered through Stanford University – a class size nearly eight times the size of Stanford’s entire student body. 

I was intrigued (and always up for learning new things, especially for free) so I started looking for some MOOCs to join. 

I looked at MITx, (which has now been incorporated into the site edX - a combined project of Harvard University and MIT), Udacity and Coursera. Coursera is the newest of the bunch, run by two Stanford professors and promising a wide range of disciplines (many of the MOOCs so far have focused on computer science courses, whereas Cousera promises classes in diverse subject areas ranging from poetry to science fiction, sociology to folklore). 

I found a tempting array of courses, and ended up enrolling in a course on physics (a subject I’ve never studied), which starts shortly. 

My motivation wasn’t only to learn about physics, however. Next year some of the major courses I support as an academic librarian will be moving all their lectures online. Students will still have tutorials, but no longer will they be filling a large lecture hall to listen to an academic explain concepts to them. They will need to go online to access their lectures, and make time to listen to them before their tutorial group each week.

As an academic librarian, I often present to lecture theatres packed full of new students, and later on, to those same students in their second year and again in their third year. Many of the students in those massive lecture theatres come and find me in the library in the following weeks as they find themselves confronted with their first essay question … or their tenth. Either way, I’m happy to help, and pleased if my brief appearance at their lecture led them to the library for help. 

So, I’ve been thinking about how to move library support online. And I’ve been curious about online learning – how it can be done well, and what pitfalls to avoid. I did my LIS post grad qualifications at a London university face-to-face, so I’ve never been an online-only student. By taking part in a MOOC I hope to be able to evaluate the experience as a student learning a brand-new subject area. I want to find out what works and what doesn’t in online learning. I’m hoping that this ‘learning by doing’ experiment will enable me to understand what my students are facing as their content increasingly goes online, and how best I can support them in this environment. Oh, and I’d be pretty pleased to learn a bit about physics too. 

I’ll leave you with a final quote from Hack Education blog on the subject, which pretty much sums up what I want to find out.

"…when we switched from scrolls to books, we had to rethink how teaching and learning happened. And now again, it’s time to reconsider these things. Who do we best teach online?  How does pacing change when you move your lectures online?  How much, truly, can we rely on lecture after all?  How often should assessment happen and what does it look like? What’s appropriate feedback? How do we support and connect learners in a MOOC? How do we support faculty? 
And how does this change the university? Are these "disruptions" just online, or is the offline, on-campus experience changed now as well?
… By being able to take advantage of online educational content -- particularly lecture content from some of the best professors at the most prestigious universities in the world -- students will benefit too."

I’ll let you know how I go being one of these students. 

Sarah Fearnley 
Sarah is an Events Coordinator for the ALIA Sydney Committee. She works at the University of Western Sydney Library. All opinions expressed are her own.

1 comment:

  1. I enrolled in a Udacity MOOC earlier this year, but didn't finish it. I'm currently enrolled in a Google Maps MOOC, which I should be able to finish soon. One of my #blogjune posts was about my MOOC experience - it's at