Saturday, December 15, 2012

An Insider's Guide: What it's Really Like to Study a MOOC

Gamification is the use of game elements and g...
Gamification is the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts (Photo credit: dullhunk)
by James Farrell, Lecturer in Law at Deakin University, The Conversation:

Anyone who has been paying attention to higher education this year will have heard of the MOOC - courses from prestigious universities offered for free online.

There’s been great interest in them from academics and students alike.

And the major players are already establishing themselves and their place in the market - edX, Udacity and Coursera to name a few.

Even though there are concerns about plagiarism, increasingly universities are considering giving course credit for completion of these subjects. The evaluation process has already begun in America with a new project by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to assess whether these courses are worthy of credit towards a degree or diploma.

Some Australian universities have already begun to embrace this mode of delivery, while others have warned that offering courses for free may devalue other university offerings. While the academic commentariat has been debating the challenges and opportunities of MOOCs, not many have looked at the first-person experiences of students.

As an empirical researcher, and having studied at four Australian universities, some of which pride themselves on their online and distance courses, I thought I’d enroll in a MOOC to gain a student perspective. The experience was illuminating.

The Course

Although there are now almost 200 courses on Coursera, there are very few for someone with my research interests and activities. 25 of the 33 universities are based in the US, and there is a clear bias to science and technology units.

I enrolled in “Gamification”, taught by the University of Pennsylvania’s Kevin Werbach. According to the Coursera website:
“Gamification is the application of game elements and digital game design techniques to non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges. This course will teach you the mechanisms of gamification, why it has such tremendous potential, and how to use it effectively.”
The course ran for six weeks, with two units covered each week. Each unit comprised 40-60 minutes of video lectures, with Kevin speaking to camera, using slides with a graphic overlay. The delivery was accessible, the content was not particularly incomprehensible, and Kevin was an engaging and pleasant teacher.

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