Differences of Opinion on Online Courses | Harvard Magazine

On the experience of teaching a MOOC:

“Preparing and Teaching a MOOC

TWO TEACHERS have written for The Chronicle of Higher Education about their experiences in devising and delivering MOOCs.

Karen Head, an assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication, received a Gates Foundation grant to explore teaching first-year writing in a massive, online course, to be offered via Coursera. She has blogged on her progress for the Chronicle, reporting in an April 29 dispatch, “The time demands, logistics, and politics of developing a MOOC will bury you—particularly if you do not have tenure.” Preparing three lectures for delivery during a single week, she noted, required her team to devote “about 20 hours to[?] planning and developing content,” plus an additional eight hours to rehearse the lectures and four hours to record them; editing, done elsewhere, followed. Further work was required to incorporate quizzes or work to be done during pauses in the lectures.

Lecturing to a camera, she reported, was not wholly satisfying because “I crave the connection I have with students in a traditional course [and] this MOOC format is in direct opposition to everything I believe good teaching to be.” Once the course launches, she expects to have many more and new sorts of connections, but “I will never know” these unseen learners as well as students in a real classroom—an outcome that hampers her own understanding of how to teach best.

To date, Head noted, “there is simply no way to adequately evaluate the writing of thousands of students”—a prerequisite for certifying their work for credit. Instead, the course will rely on peer assessment. As for the promise of machine grading: “For now, I will say that such mechanisms remain unable to provide substantive evaluation….”

Wesleyan president Michael S. Roth somehow found the time to bring “The Modern and the Postmodern” online, via Coursera. His Chronicle account, “My Modern Experience Teaching a MOOC,” also published April 29, perhaps reflects his freedom from the untenured professor Head’s anxieties and the more advanced nature of his course. As the first liberal-arts college to join Coursera, Wesleyan was obviously open to experimentation. Roth embarked on his own experiment with some skepticism: “It seemed clear to me that whatever learning happened online via lectures, quizzes, and peer-graded essays was very different from what I’d experienced in residential colleges.”

But he found the course, once launched, opened up new possibilities. While Wesleyan prides itself on diversity, it was a new experience to have students forming Spanish and Portuguese study groups, and self-assembling study sections in Bulgaria, Russia, and India. Three couples—all with Ph.D. degrees—enrolled together, while some students provided excellent lists of supplemental readings. “My MOOC,” he wrote, “has impressed upon me aspects of difference and inclusion I don’t often encounter on campus”—among them, students who reported never having had the opportunity to pursue higher education.”

Full article from Harvard Magazine is here.