Superprofessors are people too.

24 01 2013

Writing in Inside Higher Education, Coursera’s Andrew Ng reminds us that superprofessors are people too:

Online courses inherently allow students to create their own pathways through the material, which forces educators to think about the content in new ways. And MOOCs offer professors fresh opportunities to observe how their peers teach, learn from one another’s successes and failures and swap tactics to keep students engaged. This is, in turn, makes them better teachers.

He then goes on to quote many of the superprofessors who’ve run courses for Coursera, including friend of this blog, Jeremy Adelman:

Jeremy Adelman, a Princeton University professor who teaches A History of the World Since 1300, explains, “When you lecture into a recording box, it’s different from lecturing to students in person. I have a teaching style that relies on energy from students, and I had to figure out strategies that would transcend [that style] for my class on Coursera.”

Adelman discovered that in putting his course online, he became more focused on what students are experiencing, even though he wasn’t in direct contact with them. “When I lectured, I had to ask myself at all times ‘What is it that I want my students to learn?’ In the old-fashioned lecture hall I was an entertainer, more self-focused rather than teaching-focused, but I was not conscious of this dynamic until I put a course online for the first time,” he says. “For me, the lectures alone were a source of continuous learning and adaptation.”

Anybody who’s read the comments on my 16-part series about Jeremy’s course knows that he cares deeply about teaching the best MOOC he can create. More power to him, and the same thing to all of Coursera’s other superprofessors.

So I don’t mean to be the killjoy who takes the punch bowl away in the middle of the party, but how much did all that caring affect the completion rate in Jeremy’s course? I don’t mean to just pick on Jeremy here (Lord knows I’ve done enough of that). I read on Twitter this morning that the average completion rate of MOOCs as a whole is 10% or lower. Nobody’s said that all the superprofessors for those MOOCs are uncaring monsters. I’ll bet you anything that they’re trying to create the best MOOCs they can too.

Perhaps lack of caring on the part of superprofessors isn’t the problem with MOOCs then. I’d like to read more essays in the higher education press about what is.

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2 responses

24 01 2013
Anne Corner

I haven*t said anything for while but I can’t let this one go by. There are hundreds of reasons that there is only a 10% completion rate on MOOCs and they mostly have nothing to do with the quality of the education. Here are a few examples: 1) I got sick and fell behind 2) I had job/family responsibilities that got in the way 3) the class went over the holidays and I didn’t have time 4) the material turned out to be above my level 5) the subject wasn’t what I expected 6) my English wasn’t good enough 7) I had already taken this class and just wanted to see how this one was different 8) I had already taken the class from another teacher and just wanted to see how this one was different. I could go on but I think you get the idea.

25 01 2013
University teacher

Yesterday, there was a guest lecture that I wanted to catch at my university, and (for a variety of reasons) it was more convenient for me to watch a live streaming version of it at home, as opposed to actually attending.

The streaming was good, with a large portion of the screen showing the power point slides, and a smaller window showing the speaker.

As I watched, my mind wandered a bit, and I tried to figure out why I wasn’t all that engaged. Basically, it was all so… passive.

I wasn’t there. I wasn’t actively involved in the lecture, in terms of being able to sit in the same room as the lecturer, and to ask questions, and to read the lecturer’s body language.

So, I wonder if this isn’t part of the problem with MOOCs. Watching TV isn’t the same as attending a university. One is active, even if it is the low level activeness of actually getting to lecture, and the other is just more screen time.

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