MOOCs and Me: A Coursera User Testimonial

Screen shot from Coursera course catalog

Homepage for UC Irvine's Fundamentals of Personal Financial Planning.

It was late September, and the talk of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) was everywhere. Emory had just committed to joining the new online consortium, Coursera, and my Academic Technology Services neighbors, Steve Bransford, Lee Clontz, and Shannon O’Daniel were asked to lead us on a new online adventure. What are MOOCs? I had to find out for myself.

MOOCs are defined by Educause as “a model for delivering learning content online to any person who wants to take a course, with no limit on attendance,” and while it may challenge traditional education, it is an enabling way to share the experience of learning with anyone having an internet connection.

Checking out the breadth of the consortium, there are courses offered from universities all over the world: https, with language options of English, Spanish, French, Chinese and Italian and no less than 24 separate categories of classes to choose from. Looking at my options, my head reeled. To put it simply – what would suit my fancy? A chance to hear about Ancient Greeks (Wesleyan University), or am I willing to pick my guitar back up with Guitar 101 (Berklee College of Music)? Maybe find out about something I’ve never studied before?

For my first class, I choose Fundamentals of Personal Finance taught by Avi Pai from UC Irvine, and learned new strategies for Investment, Social Security, Retirement, College funding and more. It was a 7-week class with as many quizzes, a peer assessment (5 essay questions) and a final.  In addition, there are videos, supplemental reading, URLs to visit and a vital discussion board for the class to exchange ideas or ask questions.

Watch out for group polling; the professor noted “there are 80,000 enrolled in this course; more people than a sold-out home game for the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Stadium!” Group polling at this level can have a negative impact on your email account if you are ever copied on the thread responses. I learned so much in this first class that I decided to try “How Things Work,”taught by Lou Bloomfield of the University of Virginia.  Now in session, our first class was about roller skating and the roles played by acceleration, velocity, force, Newton’s 1st  and 2nd Laws and yes, even gravity.  This is the 2nd week and I’m still interested!

Coursera screen shot

A Coursera screen shot.

In Coursera, there are self-study courses where you learn at your own pace (Computer Science 101), courses that last from 4 to 10 weeks long, classes in Chemistry, Business Strategy, Social Network Analysis, Sustainable Agricultural Land Management (!), A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior, Exploring Quantum Physics…truly a rich array of possibilities.

As part of the consortium, Emory commited to launching threeCoursera courses; “Immigration and US Citizenship” with Polly Price, which begins in April; “AIDS” with Kimberley Sessions Hagen, which started at the end of February; and Steve Everett’s “Introduction to Digital Sound Design,” which just finished. The OIT team of Bransford, Clontz, and O’Daniel worked long hours to set the scene, polish rough cuts and deliver the course recordings for a stellar trio of classes.

Having experienced my first MOOC, education, free for the taking is a gift…to dabble and to find a talent or to follow a dream…indeed priceless.  It is not college, per se, but it is a vibrant environment for anyone who wants to be a learner. It gives the world the opportunity to “go to class,” learn something (new or old) and connect with many thousands of others; to date, there are 2,963,939 Courserians! Now that’s an alumni base!

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