A MOOC Experience

May 9, 2013

Last weekend I was a student again. For the first time in 27 years I was in a course as a student with an assignment due by 4.00pm on Sunday. Here I record a few thoughts about my first MOOC experience.

A MOOC is a massive open online course. The key word here is open – open enrolment to anyone with an Internet connection, utilising open educational resources on the Web and open participation via discussion forms, Twitter feeds and Google Hangout. I don’t know how massive this MOOC was, but probably more than 10,000 learners from around the world.

This MOOC was Surviving Disruptive Technologies, taught by Professor Hank Lucas of the University of Maryland. This was not a traditional university course time commitment – only 7 weeks long and 2-4 hours of expected participation per week (watch short videos, participate in Google Hangout, comment in discussion forums). However the content certainly was engaging, approximately suitable for a 200-level paper at Massey University. I “attended” most classes, except for the two weeks I was overseas (too busy with family and professional commitments).

There were two assignments. A mid-term asked us to apply what we were learning to Barnes & Noble, an incumbent in the book sellers industry being disrupted by Amazon.com, ebooks, showrooming, self-publishing, etc. It wasn’t that hard for me given my academic experience and the resources provided to us. I got 12 out of 12.

An end-of-term assignment asked us to examine any industry or company being disrupted by technology and answer five questions about impacts, challenges, coping strategies and solutions. This was much more difficult. After much thinking and two false starts, most of last weekend was devoted to writing about how the “university education industry” is being disrupted by “online education 2.0”. I don’t know my mark yet because it is being marked by my fellow learners this week.

Yes, that’s right, my classmates are marking my assignment. With massive numbers and no fees, MOOCs with essay assignments typically rely on peer-based assessment. I not only have to write the assignment, I have to mark four other assignments by other learners before I my mark is released. Having done the assignment, the expectations for assessment are fairly clear and a simple (too simple?) rubric is provided. One of the mid-term assignments I marked was clearly better than my assignment, so that made me very pleased to get full marks.

If I get at least 10 out of 14 marks on the final assignment, I will get a certificate of completion; a digital one I assume.

The best part about this MOOC is the final assignment, which forced me to put in words a number of thoughts that has been forming in my mind for some time. The second best part was I learned some more (not a lot more) about impacts of disruptive technologies. I could have learned this if I read The Search for Survival: Lessons from Disruptive Technologies by Professor Lucas, but delivery by MOOC was more fun and interesting. I have already used some of my MOOC learnings in teaching Management Information Systems (115.107). If I find another interesting and relevant MOOC, I will be keen to give it a go.

If there is a “worse thing” about the MOOC it is that some of the functionality in the learning management system from MOOC provider Coursera didn’t work on my iPad. That’s it, a minuscule complaint. Otherwise the platform was great and Stream could learn a few things from the Coursera learning management system.

If you are a business professional reading this and think MOOCs are only for academics and students, think again. In fact, most MOOCs are oriented to professional development, up-skilling and career advancement. For example, last week Coursera announced a series of MOOCs for elementary and secondary school teachers; this coincides with the school summer holidays beginning this month in the northern hemisphere. My friend and fellow New Zealander Howard Frederick is creating an on-line university for entrepreneurs. There are lots of opportunities out there for business and easily found.

I introduced MOOCs to the Massey University community at the Vice Chancellor’s Symposium last October. I maintain a strong professional interest in MOOCs, and I also have a healthy respect for the problems and the challenges. If you want to learn more, I irregularly update a non-graphical Resources for MOOCs Web page. Or lets talk about MOOCs over a cup of coffee or a beer.

Dennis Viehland
Associate Professor, Information Systems
School of Management
Massey University

4 responses to “A MOOC Experience”

  1. Janet Sayers says:

    Hey Dennis. Sounds very interesting experience and I will take you up on that beer and pick your brains maybe when semester finishes. Thanks again, most interesting

  2. othersideofbusiness says:

    Hi Dennis – a colleague pointed me to this article re the use of MOOCs in the U.S. and the divide between the rich and not-so-rich universities: http://chronicle.com/article/Professors-at-San-Jose-State/138941/ I would be interested in how you think this might play out in our very different economy?
    Andrew Dickson.

    • Hi Andrew,

      Yes, this article is right when it says this is “part of a brewing debate about how MOOCs might deepen the divide between wealthy universities, which produce MOOCs, and less wealthy ones, which buy licenses to use those MOOCs from providers like edX”. But a larger part of the reason for the discontent is the SFSU faculty union rallying to save faculty jobs (see http://chronicle.com/article/As-MOOC-Debate-Simmers-at-San/139147/).

      Meanwhile, back in New Zealand… our circumstances are much different. Our universities have not suffered the debilitating budget cuts public universities, especially in California, have suffered. Jobs are seriously at risk, university leaders are desperate for cost savings and legislators are calling for even more budget cuts (see http://chronicle.com/article/California-Considers-a-Bold/137903/). It is a pitched battle ground over there, which thankfully we don’t have.

      We also don’t have any rich universities. 🙂 No private sector university at all and while we debate who is the best in research or teaching or leadership, no one seriously debates which one of us is the richest university, or the poorest. I think your words “in our very different economy” suggest that.

      Could we use “rich university MOOCs” from Harvard or Stanford in our teaching? I hope so! At least selectively, when appropriate and on a voluntary basis.

      And, indeed, this is the case now at San Jose State University — near the end of the article you cite the SJSU provost says it is “our faculty members, who will determine how much, or how little, of the edX course materials they will incorporate into their blended courses”. Of course, the faculty union worries this may change, thus the controversy.

      In fact, other universities have gone further and accepted MOOC-based learning for credit, with some restrictions (see http://www.antioch.edu/antioch-announcement/antioch-university-becomes-first-us-institution-to-offer-credit-for-mooc-learning-through-coursera/). But I can’t see that happening in New Zealand for the unforeseeable future, at least not in MOOC 1.0. I may change my mind as MOOC-based learning evolves.

      Thanks for the excellent question.

      • othersideofbusiness says:

        Great response Dennis, certainly our economy allows a far more creative consideration – less restrained by the warring capitalists 😉 Look forward to hearing more about these innovations.

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The Other Side of Business

Welcome to The Other Side of Business. This is a blog that collects and distributes the opinion and analysis of staff and students from the School of Management, College of Business, Massey University. The aim is to post once or twice a month on current issues in business... Read more