My First MOOC!

Posted on January 3, 2014 | in Featured, Library | by

The University of Edinburgh has been an early adopter of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and offers courses through both the Coursera and FutureLearn platforms.   Library services need to constantly respond to changes in the provision of research and learning activities of their institutions.  MOOCs are one such area where libraries are currently exploring their role.

In my role as Head of Research and Learning Services within the Library & University Collections division of Information Services I get to think about these challenges daily.  However, as with many aspects of life, there is no better way to learn about something new than to roll up your sleeves and have a go!  As such, at the end of 2013 I enrolled on my first MOOC!

MOOC name: An Introduction to Operations Management
Institution: The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Instructor: Christian Terwiesch

I chose this particular course as it isn’t directly relevant to my role in the library, however it addresses issues such as identifying bottlenecks, optimising workflows, calculating waiting times, and generally improving the operations of a business.  All of these are applicable to one area or another of the library.  It was also nice to study something a little different and in a domain that I knew nothing about.

The introduction video for the course gives a good overview of what it covered:

Below is a list of thoughts about the course:

  • There were some introductory videos to the course.  These were good, as they provided familiarisation to the Coursera system and video player before the course really started.  They also provided a personal introduction to the instructor, his office (where the lectures were filmed) and his interests.  This personal aspect could easily be missed in a MOOC.
  • The Coursera video player allows videos to be played at different speeds, such as 0.75 (a bit slower), 1.0 (normal speed), and 1.25 / 1.5 / 1.75 / 2.0 (faster).  These worked well, with the audio being adjusted somehow so that the instructor didn’t sound like a chipmunk!
  • I found it hard to make time during the week to study, so ended up cramming in all the learning at the weekends.  Saturday evenings were used for watching the lectures, while Sundays were used for exam revision and taking the exams.  It probably took about four to five hours per week.
  • The weekly exams allowed multiple attempts, and were tricky enough, so often required a couple of attempts to get them all correct.  There was a practice exam and answers available for each week.
  • The course had two tracks: Academic (exams) and Practitioner (weekly assignments for a project).  I took the academic track.
  • Other than the course videos, there were a few optional readings, however these tended to be newspaper articles that talked about subjects related to the course (such as queuing systems at Disney resorts).
  • The course was about 25% of the equivalent course at Wharton, which has a dedicated text book.  The instructor and the publisher (McGraw-Hill/Irwin) worked together to create a cut-down version of the book that contains the relevant chapters, as an ebook.  This was only a fraction of the cost of the full book.  However I completed the course without having to buy the book, although if I had more time it would have been interested to read more deeply around the subject.
  • The final exam was a little bit stricter, with only two attempts allowed, although Coursera says which answers were right and which were wrong, allowing you to retry some questions.
  • The course was 8 weeks long, which was about right.  I was glad to have a rest at the weekends once it was finished.
  • The only negative in the course was that after that final module went live, the site was never updated with messages from the instructor.  It would have been nice to see a final post or two, and perhaps a concluding video.

The course also had a ‘Signature Track’ option.  This requires a payment of about £30, and requires you to upload a photo of yourself holding your passport photo page (to prove it is you), and to take a typing pattern recognition test.  After each exam, you had your photo taken by webcam, and had to re-take the typing test.  These were to prove that it was actually you who took the exam.  This is not infallible, of course, but a good basic level of verification.

In return for being on the Signature Track, you also get a shareable course record that can be used to show you completed the course.  Mine can be seen at: https://www.coursera.org/records/FxQQn8nWmW9eeNkc

Overall the course was good fun, I felt I learned a lot, and the process of learning via a MOOC worked well.  I didn’t really interact with anyone else on the course forums, and don’t know how many other students were on the course, or completed the course.

You’ll have noticed that the title of the blog is ‘My First MOOC’.  I really enjoyed the experience, learning something quite different, and I’m sure I’ll be signing up for another sometime later this year!

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