For the last six weeks I’ve been studying an advanced undergraduate level Arts course, called Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, from the University of Michigan.
It’s a traditional course, but it’s not run traditionally. It’s a MOOC: a Massive Open Online Course. It’s free, online, and it suits me down to the ground: I read the books on dialysis do the assignments at home.
I’ve been looking at MOOCs for some time. They are ‘Open’ in the sense that they can be accessed by anyone anywhere as long as you have an internet connection, and that they are free of charge. And they are called ‘Massive’ because generally they go for large target groups. Some popular courses have more than 100,000 students.
MOOCs started in 2008 and were pretty rudimentary: mainly RSS feeds, blog posts and discussion boards. But in just five years, they have morphed into some very advanced concepts indeed, using posted resources, learning management systems and structures that mix the learning management system with more open web resources.
They have exploded in popularity and reach, and universities offering MOOCs include MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and many, many more. Some MOOCs are operated by the University offering the courses, other are provided through separate companies like Udacity, Coursera, and edX in the US and OpenUpEd in Europe. There are many hundreds of course on offer, in all disciplines, all free, gratis and for nothing.
If you’d like to know more, check out MOOCs at Wikipedia.
But I want to tell you about my course. It is run by Coursera, which is a pretty slick operation. Basically, each Friday I receive a video link from the excellent Prof Eric Rabkin to a briefing on the book(s) to be read. As an extra benefit, most of the books are available as free (I like that word!) ebooks that can be read on iBook, Kindle and several other readers.
I have to read the book and write a short (300 word) essay about an aspect of it by the following Tuesday. The aim of the essay is to enrich the reading of a hypothetical intelligent, attentive fellow student in the course. Once the essay is submitted I then peer-review 5 other student’s essays and allocate each a mark out of 6.
On the Friday I receive 5 peer reviews and a mark out of 6 for my essay. Then the next assignment begins.
For me, the peer review is the primary learning tool. Not all reviews are useful, and they are rarely consistent, but there is always a nugget or two of insight that makes them invaluable. And I think my reviews also offer value. So it’s win-win! Also, Eric Rabkin helps you feel connected by recording audio comments on assignments, and update videos about what’s going on in the course each week.
MOOCs are perfect for us BigD-ers: stimulating, challenging, enjoyable, brain healthy and hugely variable, without any need for extraordinary physical fitness or our loose change.
Yet another thing to do on and off BigD.
Here is the second Briefing module: – what to expect during your First Dialysis Session.
Many thanks to Chas Collett for his invaluable input. Thanks Chas!
As usual, any feedback gratefully appreciated.