Coursera: Week 1 - Day 1 - 11:22 PM CT
Coursera has partnered with about a dozen universities to offer free online courses. I enrolled in one of those courses that began this morning and will run for 8 weeks. As an online course designer for large Illinois-based university, I am interesting in analyzing the course mechanics and flow. As a long-time reader of folk tales, fantasy, and science fiction, I am thankful for this learning opportunity. Below are my three initial observations on the first day of class.
1. Scale (Numerical, Geographical, and Generational)
While I do not know the exact number, based on a "read-count" tally and replies associated with the discussion board posts (one with 5400 hits and 241 responses), there are many (perhaps thousands) active students in the course. Also, based on student introductions on the discussion boards, the student body is globally dispersed. Ages range from individuals in their first years of high school to seasoned (and who I believe will prove to be very insightful) retirees.
The video-based introductory materials (as well as the text-based webpage content) are clear and engaging. The instructor is intriguing, emits a sense of wonder, and cultivates an exploratory disposition. He outlines the course readings (in this case science fiction novels and short story) and activities (the writing and peer-reviewing of weekly essays) in an exiting and motivating way. Most importantly, the instructor seeks (requires actually) diveristy of supportable insight. The sharing of multiple interpretations of a collection of Brothers Grimm stories (our first week's task) and ending with the Martian Chronicles (in week 8) will be exciting to see play out. While the instructor (clearly an experienced expert on the subject) will provide weekly video lectures, he does not appear to want the "final word." However, he has said that he will likely post summary videos at the end of each week to encapsulate our findings and provide some commentary of his own.
Whether it is other students answering questions about the course requirements/deadlines, providing advice about handling the workload, and sharing insights about the first reading assignment (even before the first essay has been assigned), students are collaborating with other students and a "community of learners" is already forming online. Further, in Paris, St. Louis, India, and Russia, students are arranging to meet face-to-face to discuss the course readings in coffeehouses and pubs. While the website officially opened today for virtual orientation, Week 1 does not officially begin until Thursday. This has been amazing to watch and personally develop.
Not Everyone Is Excited As I Am
Reactions to this current frenzy and online education in general are mixed. Some faculty see trouble in online education. Many higher education institutions, even those with a long history in online education, are not jumping into this current wave with Coursera.
Some Questions To Consider
So this begs the question... Is online education a quality learning experience because I (the student) declare that it will be and act in ways that support my desire? And perhaps because the instructor believes so as well? How much is dependent on attitude (both individual and communal) rather than format?