Just an OC not a MOOC

I was already enrolled in an online course when this discussion group was announced but it wasn’t a MOOC. At that time I thought I would find a MOOC to enroll in to use as a basis to participate in this discussion group. But then reality set in and I realized I just didn’t have the time to add a MOOC to my plate so I am going to talk from the perspective of the online course I am now in the midst of.  I am enrolled in a Sloan Consortium course on Mastery of Blended Learning. It is neither massive nor open. There are about 25 students enrolled.

First Impressions:

When I first enrolled there were no clear goals or expectations, no syllabus to look through or outline of activities etc. As the class started the course site (which uses Moodle) was gradually filed in. At first it was only set up a week or so in advance but has since been filled out to the end of the course. There is no syllabus to download instead the Moodle site itself acts as the syllabus. It was clear from the start that if participants wanted to receive the certificate of mastery they would need to complete all activities by they assigned deadline. We may not have known what all those were yet but it was clear what was expected in general.

The course itself:

The course consists of a number of different types of activities: there are readings and online presentations to watch, some live sessions which are also recorded for later viewing, discussion boards where we are to give each other feedback on our work and some assignment uploads where we submit the final version of our work for that unit. There are no exams or quizzes to speak of. There was an initial quiz we were required to pass at the start but it was simply and orientation to Moodle not about the content itself. Due to the nature of the course it wouldn’t be appropriate for students at Trinity but it could serve as a model for a faculty development program on blended learning. The instructors strongly encouraged interaction by requiring us to comment on each other’s work in the discussion boards. They also encouraged interaction during the live sessions but that didn’t work very well. The live sessions were only attended by a small group – maybe 5-8 and none seemed to want to be very interactive.

So far there were 2 areas where I feel this course has been useful to me. The first is the content itself. We are gathering more resources to support the use of blended learning. Most of these activities can be done with any class not just a blended class. Some of the ides for collaboration in particular have been interesting. The second area that has informed my thinking is experiencing the logistics of the online course itself. It is clear these courses might work for a self motivated student but would be challenging if not a disaster for someone who was not constantly checking in and planning ahead. When you go to class regularly there are set times you need to meet and think about what needs to be done. When it is all done online there are deadlines but no physical class sessions to remind and keep you on task. As we all know some students need constant nudges to stay on task and keep moving but with an online course it is up to the students to take responsibility for their learning. One solution to this might be to require regular synchronous sessions. The few synchronous sessions we had were always available for viewing afterwards so it was easy to put them off if they weren’t convenient. Another unexpected eye opener was the difficulty I have keeping up with the online discussions. When there are 20 threads with separate conversations happening in all of them it is very difficult to keep up with and be involved in all of them. We didn’t have any large whole class discussions but so far they have all been focused on giving feedback on each other’s work. Some of these turned into interesting discussions but they seem scattered and disconnected from each other and difficult to keep up with. So while I like and encourage the use of the discussion boards I am also realizing what I personally don’t like about them and need to try to think of ways to address those issues.

How does this all fit in at Trinity? I am still quite skeptical of online only classes in many ways. I think there is a place for them but I don’t think an online discussion can really replace a face to face discussion. Maybe a synchronous session where everyone had video could be close but an asynchronous discussion board is very different form a face to face discussion. If the course is simply about learning facts this format may be more applicable but if the course is about discussion and debating ideas and learning from each other etc it is difficult to make that work as well as a face to face conversation. What I am taking away, however, is some ideas for online components that can augment what we are already doing in class. I don’t want to give up the face to face class time altogether but I do see value in trying to find the best of both worlds and that is where I think we can learn from MOOCS and online courses. As they figure out the best way to address these issues we can take what works and add it to our current toolkit to extend the classroom and encourage students to interact with the material and their classmates outside of regular class time.

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