5 Things I Learned from My MOOC Experience

As I discussed in an earlier post, the two MOOCs I was involved with, Fundamentals of Online Learning and E-Learning and Digital Cultures, started off very differently.  After I wrote that post, they continued their different paths.  EDC is still going, while FOE was suspended by the teacher and by Georgia Tech in order to address problems with the course.


So what I have learned from this brief MOOC experience?


1. Promote Community: As I wrote in my last post, community is a key aspect of learning.


2. Use a variety of tools.  One of the things that distinguished EDC was flexibility in the use of tools.  Students were encouraged to blog, use Twitter, use whatever they needed to succeed.  The flexibility gave the course the sort of resilience you need to run a 40,000 -person course.


3. Highlight the material, not yourself: The FOE professor was front and center from the very beginning.  She appeared in the online lectures, and her voice read the material.  By contrast, the EDC professors were hardly visible at first.  Much of the work was done by the students.  The professors presented material, and then let the students run with it.  It’s not that they were invisible.  At the end of the first week, for example, they did a Google chat to discuss some of the themes of the course.  Various students on Twitter in fact said they appreciated hearing from the professors, so it was important that they were involved.  But the way their appeared–first as curators, second as commenters on themes that emerged from student work–meant the material, and not the teachers, were at the center of the course.


4. Don’t use Google docs if you’re running a MOOC:  OK, this one should be clear, but it was the biggest fail for FOE.  Setting up groups was a good idea.  Asking 40,000 people to sign into a Google spreadsheet at one time to join groups was not a good idea.  It got the course off to a poor start from which it never recovered.


4 1/2. Do use Google docs if you’re running a MOOC:  Or rather, encourage your students to use it to create and share.  Google docs was used in both MOOCs, but in a student-led fashion.


One example: a joint glossary.  Another example: publicly-shared notes.


So clearly, it’s not the tool, it’s the way the tool is used.


5. Don’t panic: It’s true that FOE did not start well.  And yet, it had potential as a course.  The key in dealing with a disaster is flexibility.  Yet it seemed that they took the course off-line just as they seemed to be solving the main problem, which was the groups issue.  Now, instead of being a course that recovered from disaster to have  strong finish, it’s just a disaster.


True, sometimes you need to cut your losses.  But other times you should aim to recover.  The trick is knowing when to apply each method.


Of course, all these lessons don’t apply just to MOOCs–they apply to teaching more generally.  Which suggests that while MOOCs are, in some ways, a new experience in teaching, in other ways, they’re just like any other educational experience.  As the old song goes…the fundamental things apply, as time goes by.


Picture credit: Flickr

David Korfhage

History Teacher at Montclair Kimberley Academy

I am an upper school history teacher at the Montclair Kimberley Academy, in Montclair, New Jersey, where I also teach comparative religion. I am particularly interested in the application of technology to education, in using effective assessment and feedback to improve student learning, and in promoting thoughtful wisdom, insight, and reflection in my students.