Reflections on the Coursera MOOC Experience #edcMOOC

This week, I began an “E-Learning and Digital Cultures” MOOC through Coursera as a part of my ENGL516: Computers and Writing, Theory and Practice class. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of a MOOC…it stands for “Massive Online Open Course.” These are essentially classes that are offered online to everybody; you don’t need to be admitted to a college or university to join, and there are classes available in a wide variety of subject matter. Coursera is just one of many websites that offer MOOCs. All of them are free of cost and many are taught by professors from major universities across the globe. And while students who complete a MOOC do not directly receive college credit, many of the courses do offer a certificate for students who pass the course.

While a good friend of mine had told me about Coursea a few months back (I think she was enrolled in a class on psychology at the time), I was not very familiar with the concept of a MOOC until I began my class this week.

The first thing I noticed was that there’s really no understating the “Massive” part of the acronym. I tried to do a little bit of searching around the course page to see if there’s actually a number of enrolled students listed somewhere, but I wasn’t able to find anything. Still, to give an idea as to the size of the class…in one thread in our discussion forum for this week alone, there are close to 400 posts and 8,600 views. And in an article titled “All About MOOCs” by Rosanna Tamburri, it’s suggested that MOOC class sizes of 40,000 students or more are not unheard of.

On our 516 class blog, the latest discussion thread has 16 posts…

While participating in the discussion forums in the MOOC is not required by the teachers, it is recommended to prepare us for the final assessment (which is actually the only thing we’ll be officially graded on). I have to say, I’m having a hard time feeling like I’m getting anything out of the discussion forum. It’s enough of a challenge to skim through hundreds of posts, let alone to make a contribution that isn’t repetitive. I tried bringing up some new points and asking a couple of questions here and there in my posts to generate more of a discussion. I think a couple of people responded, but the “discussion” (if you can even call it that) derailed soon after, as people began posting their own interpretations of the videos or readings–basically saying the same things that had already been said dozens of times.

To me, the discussion forums in the MOOC don’t seem like discussions at all; they seem to function as more of a space to “dump” one’s thoughts without really trying to engage in conversations with the rest of the (huge) class. I wonder why this is. Is it the class size that’s making it so difficult (we don’t seem to have these issues in our 516 discussions)? Do people just like to spew their own opinions and ignore everybody else’s input (my answer to this is yes regardless)?

This isn’t to say I’m not enjoying the MOOC experience. Personally, I loved the short videos that we watched for this week and I really like having the option to kind of pick and choose the readings we want to do based on our own interests. I also have a feeling that the forum discussions will improve as people drop stop participating in the class (hate to say it), which, according to Tamburri, is essentially inevitable. In “All About MOOCs,” she explains that “dropout rates for MOOCs are exceptionally high. Dr. Siemens estimates that about 10 percent of registrants in his MOOCs (albeit smaller versions of the high-profile U.S. type) complete the course.”

2 thoughts on “Reflections on the Coursera MOOC Experience #edcMOOC

  1. Steve Krause says:

    I think your description of the discussion forums as a “space to dump” is pretty accurate. I think it is mostly a function of size because if the class was even in the hundreds instead of the thousands, I think it’d be easier to follow.

    My own strategy in dealing with this has been to just selectively dip in and out of the conversations, picking what you’re interested in and then leaving the rest behind. But that sort of “I am going to ignore all of this” approach actually takes a certain amount of discipline and practice too.

    • daniellenewby says:

      You’re absolutely right about that…and being able to ignore a lot of the comments in the forum is something I’m gradually getting better at. I do wonder if any MOOCs have experimented with the idea of grouping students into (like you said) even groups of a few hundred and having a separate discussion forum for each group.

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