Friday, January 23, 2015

Just because it's on a computer, doesn't mean it isn't boring

As everyone knows, I got really excited about the whole "MOOC" concept a few years ago.

I investigated a number of the providers, and signed up with lots of them: Coursera, Udacity, edX, Stanford Online; you name it, I created an account there and looked at their catalog.

Side trip, and confession: reading college course catalogs has always been an addiction of mine. I remember when I was younger, I liked nothing more than to get the latest catalog (back then, they were enormous printed books), find a nice quiet corner somewhere, and curl up for simply hours reading through course descriptions and titles, thinking about just what it was they they were going to discuss in that course, and whether I could imagine myself in that class.

In the intervening years, I've signed up for a number of classes, and some of them have been simply superb. The one which stands out the most is Dan Boneh's phenomenal series of courses on Cryptography, but others have been very good as well.

So this fall, I envisioned myself having a bit of time, and since I happen to be on the mailing lists for various MOOC providers, I saw (and signed up for) a half-dozen or so courses I thought I'd like.



In some cases, institutions have simply placed a low-quality video camera into a classroom, taken the result, and put it online.

In other cases, they've made an attempt to design material which works well in an online format, and have made some attempt to invest in decent studio equipment, and so forth, but the results just don't work.

I suspect that, often, the issue is that the tools, techniques, and processes that instructors learn for working with a live audience of students are completely different than those that they need in the distance-learning environment.

And either no-one bothered to teach them those skills, or it didn't occur to them, or they just had no interest in attempting to develop those skills.

Let me tell you: sitting at my computer, looking at a motionless head, droning on in a monotone, reading from some prepared script, passionless, is a 100% sure-fire way to put me to sleep and inform me of nothing.

These are smart people.

And I'm sure they mean well.

But boy oh boy is the MOOC world suddenly filled with piles and piles of complete rubbish nowadays.

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