online learning

Image courtesy of Ted Major

I finally caved into all of the MOOC hype and signed up for a course, although my reasons are purely selfish. To be honest, I’m not doing it because it is ‘cool’ or I am interested in the inner workings of a more social style of learning. Nope. I am doing it for the information. Last night, I watched a great workshop on YouTube given by Zoltan Dornyei on designing and analyzing data from questionnaires. It got me interested again in statistics, even though I dreaded the course during my MA TESOL program, and I felt compelled to find out more. Why? Well, it is just plain interesting. I am not one for just taking things at face value very often. I want to know why and how things occur. I have been reading a lot of journal articles lately and I find my eyes starting to glaze over when reading the data charts and various terms used to explain them. As my dad would often say, I know enough to hurt myself, in this case when it comes to stats. On top of all of that, I want to know more about the use of statistics for when I start to get into research myself.

To make a long story a little less boring, I ended up looking at free MOOCs and decided on a data analysis course from Duke University through Coursera. Despite my lack of time and a little bit of apprehension, I signed up knowing that I wouldn’t lose any money in the deal and should end up learning at least SOMETHING in the process. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to sign up and get started when the sheer enormity of the task started to hit me. There are readings and videos, assignments and exams. When am I going to get this all done? Well, I might as well continue forward was my oh so enthusiastic cry.

I only started yesterday, but I am already seeing how this might be a really effective tool in an English for Academic Purposes class. For many EAP courses, students have to work their way up before they are able to start taking concurrent academic courses outside of their English classes. Many of those students are petrified about what to expect when they get into the classroom. Are they going to be able to handle the work load? How are they going to get through all of that reading material in time? What about the lectures? Am I going to be able to understand the professor as he or she starts to ramble on about things I barely understand? All of these are valid questions and us as EAP instructors try to answer within our classroom in order to familiarize the students on what is coming next in their educational journey. That is where I can see the power of MOOCs.

My thought is to have students sign up for a MOOC of their choice based on something they are planning on studying in the future. This serves multiple purposes really, preparing them for university and also for the specific material. This should also keep them fairly engaged since they can see the value in the material they are studying. There are a pile of MOOC providers out there, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to match up the students to a good course. You could then have students submit their homework into you before turning it in online, giving them feedback on their writing. Students could keep track of course specific terms and it also gives them short, bite-size lectures to listen to along with additional reading. In my class, I try to give students individual work time outside of the regular group or class work. Students can work at their own pace as long as they keep checking in with me on a regular basis for feedback and guidance. This would fit in nicely with that.

Are there problems with this idea? Sure. The biggest thing for me is that students would become overwhelmed and discouraged. This is a real threat. I think the only thing that keeps this from taking root is to keep on top of things with the student, letting them know this is a trial run for the real thing. They can screw up here and it doesn’t hurt them in the long run. Another possible issue, although one with some real positives, is the peer-marking done in most MOOCs. This means that they will have to read a classmate’s work and give feedback and a mark. Sure, the students will probably miss some of the mistakes, but it also gives them a chance to see what others are doing and learn from it.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought of this and likely I am late to the show, but I’m not writing this to make myself sound like I have come up with this amazing idea, I just hope it sparks some interest for someone out there and my plan is to get your input into this process. My goal is to get this up and running in my class and then share that with you all as I work out the kinks. More to come . . .

6 thoughts on “Studying

  1. Interesting timing! My wife just started an EAP MOOC course offered by the University of Reading in the UK. I haven’t had much time to look at it, but I’m impressed by what I’ve seen so far.

  2. I had a similar idea last week. At first I thought of TED Talks, but they are too contrived and don’t reflect the reality of real classrooms.

    Two important considerations would be at first having students choose a MOOC together so that you can all work on the same content to give students consistent and equal practice. Then they can branch off into their own MOORS if time allowed.

    Another consideration is time. Students may be taking several courses concurrently with their EAP course, so tacking on a non-credit course might be overwhelming. But I thwere are ways to work around this.

  3. Hows the course getting on a month along? I only did a little data analysis at the end of my degree and discovered I liked it (econometrics side).

    I found the PhD tutors were pretty critical to helping me get it and get over the hump of understanding and jargon. How’s it working out with a MOOC?

    1. I did it for a few weeks, but ended up having to drop it due to other commitments. I plan on taking it up once again in the summer when I have some more time.

      I did learn quite a bit, but I found the format a bit awkward at times. Nothing big, but I felt like I couldn’t dig into the application of the material as much as I had wanted. It turned out to be more head knowledge (memorize, regurgitate, repeat) than anything else.

      Thanks for commenting.

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