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MOOCs: Questions Answered


• ExcelinEd

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

This is the fourth post in a series on taking a MOOC. Read Parts One, Two, and Three.

I am four weeks and four blogs into my first experience with a Massive Open Online Course, an offering from Cornell entitled: “Wiretaps to Big Data: Privacy and Surveillance in the Age of Interconnection”:

I started this experience with three questions:

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

Here are some answers.

It was no problem finding an interesting course. The selection of available MOOCs is impressive and growing. MOOCThe simplicity of the edX portal makes it easy to start the course, and navigate through the material. The sidebar on the left lists each lesson, and each “module” (subsection) can be found in a drop-down menu branching off of these lessons. When I close the window it saves my spot and shows a friendly reminder. Anybody with basic computer skills can take this course. It even works on my phone!

The course is divided into 10 lessons, each supposed to take a week to complete. But you can go faster or slower than that pace. Many of the lessons are split into “a” and “b” topics. For example, in lesson three, the “a’’ topic is “Privacy,” which focuses on defining privacy in the modern age. And the “b’’ section is “Invasion of Privacy,” which goes into specific examples of privacy invasion. The second section builds on information learned in the first section.

Depending on the length of videos, number of articles, and difficulty of questions, each lesson can vary between one and three hours in length.

Since I am auditing this course, I don’t interact with students or the instructor, Professor Stephen B. Wicker. I also don’t do some of the more lengthy assignments (such as building out the course wiki). And so getting back to my second question above, this course does not provide a full classroom experience. The only help I get from others is reading through the previous discussion boards and learning through the questions and answers of prior course participants.

This particular MOOC does allow you to track your progress through short quizzes and questions injected throughout the lessons, but a challenge I’ve experienced is finding other ways to measuring my own progress. The experience encourages me to reflect on my education in two ways: First off and most important, I am learning quite a bit about a very relevant and important subject. Second, there is the pride in taking a course with college-level material from a grade-A professor. I am not just learning;—I am experiencing education at the highest level, and there is no substitute for that feeling.

MOOCs are still in their infancy. But through answering my target questions, I hope to shed some light on my experiences and communicate the unrealized potential they have to offer.

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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