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A First Exploration of a MOOC


• ExcelinEd

[Editor’s note: This was originally posted on Digital Learning Now’s Blog.]

“What is a mouk?” my mom typed into Google after I said that I was going to be entering the world of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). After having a good laugh about this error in translation, I explained I would be taking a course online this summer. After a few minutes on edX’s website, my mom had the moment of clarity I had experienced not long before her. In the depth and breadth of course offerings available just a click away, we both saw the future of education—digital learning—staring us straight in the face.

The effects of recently launched MOOC sites such as edX (2012) have reached far and wide. The first course edX hosted—MIT’s “Circuits and Electronics”—attracted 155,000 participants from more than 160 countries. More than 2.1 million people have signed up for edX courses in the past two years.

The largest provider of free MOOCs, Coursera, enrolls more than 7.1 million students worldwide in hundreds of different courses (from institutions such as MIT, Cornell, and the Smithsonian). Over the next five weeks, I will be taking “Wiretaps to Big Data: Privacy and Surveillance in the Age of Interconnection,” created by Professor Stephen Wicker of Cornell University. While I won’t be able to engage with students in forums and chats, as I would a live online course, an archived MOOC allows me to study at my own pace, at anytime, anywhere in the world.

Although this is my first experience with a MOOC, I have always been fascinated with watching the progression of technology in the classroom. I recently graduated from a private high school in New Jersey, and will matriculate into the University of Pennsylvania at the end of this summer. My education throughout the last 16 years has been based on hands-on learning experiences, open classroom discussions, and lectures where information travels directly from the teacher’s mouth to the pages of my notebook. This course will truly be my first all-digital educational experience.

For my entire life, technology has always been used to supplement learning, not deliver it. In elementary school, our computer lab time was restricted to typing lessons. Not much changed in middle and high school, where digital learning stopped with the use of a projector or computer during class. Digital technology in the classroom has been a minor upgrade—a software patch, if you will—rather than the full educational reboot it could deliver.

My final year of high school was the first time I glimpsed what life is like in a world of digital learning. My school used a digital course-hosting site during one of several snow days throughout the year. It was used as a test run, but viewed as a way to salvage time that would otherwise be lost instead of the true educational tool that it could become. While many teachers and students had lost Internet access due to the storm, my two classes that did run went surprisingly well. While this gave me an early insight into what the future of online class taking may entail, I was able to return the next day to the classroom with my teachers and classmates.

As I blog about this new experience, I will be looking for answers to three major questions:

  1. How did my limited prior knowledge of MOOCs affect my experience in both choosing and taking a course?
  2. How will the lack of dialogue between teacher, student, and classmates affect my “classroom” experience?
  3. As I accrue new knowledge by taking the course, how will I successfully both measure my progress and growth within the subject area?

In answering these questions, I may be able to also be able to address some of the myths of online learning Digital Learning Now has previously identified.

Each week I will check in on the DLN blog with an update on my advancement through the course as well as any insights to these questions. I am looking forward to both taking a course with such a timely and interesting subject and sharing my experiences with DLN. Hopefully, I can help shed new lights on the wide range of useful offerings provided by MOOCs as well as the shortcomings and areas for improvement in these programs.

Jake Cohen is a recent high school graduate who will be attending the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Arts and Sciences this fall. He is planning on studying International Relations and History. Jake is an avid golfer, reader, and New England Patriots fan.


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