World History MOOC Report 16: In which I try to sum the whole thing up.

21 12 2012

Well, I just hit submit on my last essay so even though I have a little bit of peer grading left to do, my MOOC experience is basically over. When I started this thing I wrote:

I could definitely stand to learn more specific factual knowledge from outside my country of specialty.

Although it turns out I knew a lot more about World History than I thought I did, there’s no question that I met that goal. Of course, I would have learned more had I read the textbook and took notes on the video lectures, but I’ll bet you anything I would have quit the whole thing in frustration if I had gone in whole hog. In that sense, maybe having different levels of MOOC participation is a good thing.

I still wonder though whether the course might have been designed better to draw slackers like me in further. When I teach my survey course, I spend the entire first lecture going through the syllabus and explaining the differences between history in college and the kind of history classes that students likely had in high school. Perhaps Jeremy does something similar on campus, but for this MOOC he certainly hit the ground running. Everything technical and bureaucratic had to be absorbed passively on the web site or through e-mail as the lectures (apart from the goofing around with Dan or Valeria) were all business – history business, that is, rather than the business of the course. I realize that the MOOC machine is supposed to be canned, but I don’t see why some of it can’t cover the course details that will change from semester to semester. After all, as numerous people have pointed out in the comments to earlier posts in this series, the history certainly does.

With respect to that history, what surprised me most is the way that I perked up more often when Jeremy was lecturing on material that I already knew rather than the stuff I knew nothing about. It’s not that I was determined to find errors in the lectures (I think I remember just one through the whole course).* I think it’s because that’s the material for which I already had the knowledge to put what I was learning into context. I knew there were lots of local revolutions during World War I, for example, but considering them altogether helps me understand that conflict better outside the limited American context.

Jeremy assumed a lot of prior knowledge for the students in his class. I’m sure that works for Princeton students. I had a lot of it (but by no means all that I needed). I have to wonder though if most of the 92,000 people in the course had what they needed to make sense of everything. And you have to remember, a lot of those lectures went over the “normal” three hours per week that you’d get in an on campus course. We were being inundated. For my peculiar purposes that was a good thing, but I doubt that was true for everybody.

If a history MOOC is really going to simulate a college class, it has to somehow teach writing and critical thinking. While I would quibble with a few of Jeremy’s administrative decisions with respect to the peer grading assignments (for example, I think the footnote/bibliography thing just confuses matters), I really admire his efforts to actually duplicate the Princeton in-course experience. I think the problem is that peer-grading is basically doomed from the start almost by definition.

I don’t want to get too much into this as I have an essay written up on this subject that I’m currently trying to place. The short version of the critique are two points that I think I’ve made in earlier installments of this series: 1) There simply aren’t enough incentives to make students care about their grading duties. [The last essay I turned in got a perfect score. Unfortunately, I was the only person who had bothered to grade it.] And 2) Even if they do care, there’s no reason to think that they can grade anywhere near as well as a trained professional. Maybe you can teach the world a lot of facts by showing them videos of the best professors of the world, but if you can’t teach them how to “do” history, then MOOCs will never be able to replace the in-class experience unless the powers that be no longer care whether students get access to that experience or not.

Alright, that’s it for me and MOOCs for a good long while. I’m going on a MOOC holiday. Unfollow the blog if you’re only here for the MOOC bashing as I think I’m going to start back after Christmas with a whole new topic. No, it won’t be all culinary history but there’ll definitely be a lot more history here than there’s been lately. I suspect I’ll even still cover some educational technology from time to time, but MOOCs are starting to bore me to tears.

Merry Christmas, everybody. Here’s hoping that 2013 turns out to be the year of something with a better acronym.

* It’s that bra-burning myth, Jeremy. The 1968 Miss America protestors actually dumped ladies undergarments and other “instruments of women’s oppression” into a “Freedom Trash Can.”

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7 responses

21 12 2012
The Rich (Universities) Are Different QOTD « A (Budding) Sociologist's Commonplace Book

[…] Whatever is happening to higher-ed more broadly, something very different is going on at Yale, Columbia, Harvard and a handful of others. These universities may be generating the content for MOOCs, but they aren’t worried about their traditional model disappearing anytime soon. And gee whiz do they have a lot of money! As Rees elsewhere notes, the Coursera model seems to be premised on the idea that “super professors” will generate free content that will be offered in place of existing courses at less prestigious universities – basically, the most prominent and well-paid faculty doing free labor to (poorly) replace the labor of the adjuncts and TT faculty at lower-tiered schools. The poorly part is important – for some courses, maybe the MOOC is as good an offering as a big traditional lecture taught by a regular professor, especially if the lecture lacks any interaction whatsoever. But, as Rees repeatedly argues: […]

21 12 2012
Jeremy

Jonathan: Bra-burning was an activity meant to affiliate the burning of draft cards, as a public renouncement of traditional loyalties and obligations. The protest in Sept 1968 in Atlantic City was a dramatic coming out event for what was already a gathering movement. Actually what happened with that trash can was that the protest organizers DID plan to light it aflame after filling it with their undergarments, but the police stepped in and warned them not to without a permit! So they couldn’t at the last minute – but the image, and later the “unpermitted” activity took off. Robin Morgan was on record as of late 67 claiming this was an effective device. Of course, the term was NOT invented by them, and was soon, beginning with the New York Post, used to denote wacko man-hating mouth-frothing…etc. See how the Vietnam War and the history of global empire shapes the national story?

21 12 2012
Jeremy

On your more important points: I couldn’t agree more that I did make some assumptions about the level, and that there would be some prior knowledge. This is, after all, the course I give to Princeton students; these are literally the lectures that Princeton students watch alongside you and everyone else enrolled around the world. If some Courserians want something less driving, then they can look for other kinds of courses. But since what is on offer here is a Princeton course, I figure it should be a Princeton course. To me it’s not about the numbers, not about whether someone can license it at Univ X, and I would not allow that anyway.

The second major issue, the main issue, is the peer assessing. This, I agree, has not worked very well at all. Here, my assumption that what I was having students write and assess papers in order to learn how historians think by writing. I didn’t test on content and memory, or recitation. But the kind of epistemological aspirations was wayyyyyyy to hard to formulate into assessment rubrics. I think this is where peer assessing really broke down because the rubrics were clear but the point of them was not. Now, whether a trained professional is better at this IF I have been clear about the meta-goals of the course, I don’t yet know. (I can see you furrowing your brow now…”this guy just won’t give up…”). On incentives, maybe assessors should be assessed? A little too recursive and could degenerate into squabbles… But I will have to think more about whether incentives work for this kind of thing.

A last self-reflection, which I came to realize after the first month, is that I needed to do much, much more basic orientation and explanation — what’s a syllabus, how to organize time, the learning objectives…. Princeton students have the script (well, sort of), but others don’t. That was a big mistake.

Anyway, Jonathan, it’s a been a pleasure and a real learning experience reading your entries. You are the only peer who actually did any assessing of me, so I am very grateful for it. And it was free! I know we are staying in touch now on other venues, and that’s good. Have a great holiday everyone.

21 12 2012
Anne Corner

You know, Jeremy, that up to now I hadn’t noticed that no learning objectives were stated. I really should have noticed as I had to always do them for the continuing education courses I used to teach. I felt that not enough was said about studying history and what that was all about and learning objectives would have helped. As for the peer assessing – not workable as currently set up and that is why I stopped writing the essays. Waste of time in my opinion. I learned a lot though.

Jonathan, thank you. This blog has really expanded my MOOC experience and I have really enjoyed discussing things with you and your followers. Happy Holidays everyone.

8 01 2013
The beatings will continue until morale improves. « More or Less Bunk

[…] *  Come on, you just knew I wasn’t going to be able resist this subject for very long. […]

19 02 2013
MOOC Reflections | Owen Guthrie

[…] I found several excellent and extensive reviews of the course. The one I enjoyed the most is the 16 part review written by Jonathan Rees on his blog, “More or Less Bunk.”  Rees combs through the […]

27 02 2013
Black is white. Up is down. | More or Less Bunk

[…] my experience in Jeremy Adelman’s World History Coursera MOOC demonstrated almost the exact opposite. I’m hoping that you all will be able to read my extended thoughts on the subject of peer […]

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