Massive Open Online Courses

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course which becoming increasingly popular. I am currently ‘participating’ in two MOOCs in order to get a flavour of the educational technologies in use as well as to learn something new.

2011-10-23 SNAG-06The first MOOC is Introduction to Artificial Intelligence a course offered by Stanford University that is in its 5th week. At the cut-off for enrolments over 160,000 students had enrolled. After a general introduction the groundwork is being laid for algorithm design, probability and Bayesian networks. What I find interesting is the simple and effective use of videos both for presenting information in a whiteboard-style and for conducting and the giving the answers to quizzes.

2011-10-23 SNAG-02Rather than actual whiteboards the videos are constructed with the two lecturers, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, writing out information on paper with coloured pens as they narrate the content. The otherwise lengthy time taken to write and draw all the content is compressed by editing the video to match the narration – a very effective technique. If only this were possible in a live class in a lecture theatre.

2011-10-23 SNAG-04The quizzes in these classes are also impressive. After the lecturer has written/drawn a case study or problem, the video ends with a quiz form overlaid on the last video frame. This contains radio buttons, check boxes and text boxes for answers as required, and a Done button for the student to check their answers. If correct, the student clicks Next and moves to the next video. If incorrect, there is usually an option for the student to watch a video explaining the correct answer before moving on – again an impressive facility.

Homework is available approximately every two weeks and consists of the actual continuous assessment done by the Stanford-enrolled students. The guest students can attempt the homework but are not graded. Solutions are made available after the appropriate deadlines have passed to enable self-assessment of progress.

2011-10-24 SNAG-00The second MOOC I am following is Change: Education, Learning, and Technology being facilitated by a trio of education technology experts Stephen Downes, George Siemens, and Dave Cormier. This MOOC runs for 36 weeks with a 2-week holiday break from 12 Sept 2011 to 20 May 2012 with a different invited guest facilitator each week, all well-known in the edtech community. We are just starting week 7. The number of participants is varying as you can register at any time, and like me, duck in and out as the topics takes your interest. From last year’s experience the number exceeds 1,000 and this year activity seems to be much higher.

Again the tools used to support this course are interesting. The purpose built course wiki site directly supports tools like discussion threads, email/online daily newsletters and a blog, as well the content pages for each weekly topic. Each week includes a live webinar meeting of which recordings are available, although some technical difficulties are still being ironed out. The wiki is just the base template and all ‘students’ are encouraged to create other shared tool spaces for collaboration which can be linked from the wiki. Short communications use Twitter with the #change11 hashtag. Other tools the participants have so far created include Facebook groups, Diigo groups and a host of other blogs.

As I predicted the highlight for so far has been week 3 with Martin Weller talking about digital scholarship based around his new book, The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice, which is free to read in HTML format.

So the AI MOOC is highly structured and requires a few hours each week to keep up. The Change11 MOOC allows you to duck in an out on the topics that are attractive. Both have immense value and advance the state of the art in MOOC development.


About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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