For the uninitiated, MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course (not to be confused with Mouk, a globe-trotting cartoon bear). Over the last several years, educators have been trying to figure out how to leverage the internet pedagogically, with varying levels of success. Some have developed online simulations for various specialties; others have created hybrid or flipped courses involving a combination of in-class and online learning. MOOCs offer completely online, free, open access learning, often with students numbering in the thousands across multiple countries.
MOOCs have a Canadian connection, having been developed by George Siemens at Athabasca University in conjunction with Stephen Downes of the National Research Council for a University of Manitoba course on connective knowledge in 2008. According to Downes, MOOCs fall into two categories: those that essentially follow a traditional course hierarchy with video lectures from one or more experts (sort of a digital correspondence course); and those that encourage greater peer connectivity via message boards, blog posts, or even virtual reality using a platform like Second Life. This second, more connected and creative option, is the one preferred by Downes, and it clearly supports Henry Jenkins’s theories of participatory media culture, in which users co-create online. (Not sure if Henry and I are related, but we clearly share numerous interests.)
Lots of MOOCs exist. I’ve only played around on a couple of them, but as a dedicated life-long learner, I’m loving them! They’re open access (to anyone privileged enough to have access to a computer and the internet) and usually free (unless you want a piece of paper upon completion). So far, I’ve completed five courses through Coursera and FutureLearn, all created by different universities. I started with a medical humanities course from the University of Cape Town, moved on to a fascinating course on medieval magic from the University of Barcelona, simultaneously tackled two courses on forensic science (one from the University of Dundee and the other from Nanyang Technological University), and finally got around to filling the psychology gap in my education with a course from the University of Toronto.
Each course has taken a slightly different approach. While all have included short video lectures, usually from five to twenty minutes, some have included mini-check-in quizzes, while others demand longer tests; all have required a little bit of writing, along with the need to peer-evaluate written assignments by other students. Most have included links to other fascinating online resources. The level of required engagement with other students has varied from regular to none. Often, I can adjust my level of engagement to my available time. Some courses have been organized thematically week-to-week, while others have used more of a narrative arc. Right now, I’m working on an amazing course on ancient Rome that includes a virtual reality model students can explore.
Not sure what I’ll tackle once this course is done, but I’m sure it’ll be new and exciting! Hope you’ll join me. In the words of Odd Squad’s Dr. O, “What’s next!”
©Catherine Jenkins 2017 all rights reserved