While I had planned to spend most of last Monday not paying much attention to Jeremy Adelman, things didn’t quite work out that way. It wasn’t that he was too compelling to ignore. Instead, I couldn’t concentrate on writing my faculty development grant with a World History lecture going on in the background. Therefore, I spent almost all of Thursday with him listening to two weeks’ worth of lectures instead. Even though I did a few other minimally important things (like cleaning up my office) at the same time, I’m proud to say that I aced every single one of the multiple choice test questions after each lecture segment.
Some of that success may come from the fact that the MOOC has moved into the twentieth century now so I knew much of the material already. However, I really enjoyed listening to very familiar stories from new angles: World War I as a series of local civil wars, World War II from the standpoint of comparative global supply chains, etc. [Come to think of it, I need to go back and copy that global munitions production chart for my own use.] Honestly, I’ve enjoyed the content of the class a great deal ever since the MOOC has moved into the centuries for which I have a decent frame of reference, namely everything after 1700 or so.
Instead it’s the administrative decisions that have really bothered me. Some of this is Coursera’s fault, but our last class e-mail from Saturday clearly demonstrated to me that some of my problems stem from decisions that Jeremy has made himself.
Vim., who’s at least reading the e-mails even if she’s hopelessly behind on the lectures, made me laugh out loud with this tweet about that same message:
That part of the news didn’t surprise me at all. Jeremy has shown a great interest in global dialogues, both in other e-mails and here at this blog so this seems like a natural extension of that principle. Nonetheless, the end of that tweet does suggest what students in our class aren’t getting.
Jeremy also announced that he’ll be re-taping some of his early lectures for next time because he didn’t like his performance. I, for one, have always thought his performance has been fine, but I still wish he’d re-tape them all anyway.
I was holding out hope that Jeremy might teach his next MOOC roughly synchronously with the dates that it’s open so that he could respond to the students’ collective concerns. After all, he has shown such an interest in direct interaction with as much of the class that’s looked for him. Why cut that avenue of communication off completely?
But Jeremy also announced in that e-mail that our MOOC has added about 10,000 people since it started. That left me truly shocked as it made me wonder why I’ve bothered to do my assignments on time. If this class is supposed to be interactive, who will the students going back to week one have to interact with? Will the TAs be covering the entire course spectrum at once in order to help those new ten thousand? I kind of doubt it.
More importantly, I figured Jeremy would re-tape all of his lectures because the maps he’s been using since the beginning of the class are ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE TO READ. Jeremy will periodically talk about some important geographical aspect of world history and all I can see on his map slide are some colored arrows and the names of countries. The city names and features on the maps are totally illegible. If that isn’t worth fixing, what is?
Coincidentally, also on Saturday I saw an epic post by Kelli Marshall about student use of laptops in the classroom. This is a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, which I also think applies here because if you think it’s bad when the professor is in the same room, think how many people are tuning out Jeremy in the privacy of their own homes? What really got me though was Marshall’s use of this quote from Patrick Allitt about how he handles his (face-to-face) classroom:
Whatever you do beyond the classroom is your own business, but so long as you are here, I am going to assume that you came here with the intention of learning. I am the teacher, and I am doing everything I can to put you in a position conducive to learning.
No matter how much work Jeremy puts into this MOOC, he is not creating an environment that’s conducive to learning because nobody is there for them the same way that Allitt is there for his students. Sure, everyone is welcome to join this global community, but nobody is going to do anything to help them understand what’s going on once they get there unless they seek help themselves, and most students will never do that. Obviously Jeremy wants to run the best MOOC possible, but in the end his ultimate goal is still to have the MOOC machine run itself.
Perhaps this sounds a little old-fashioned, but I think every student, no matter how casual they may be, deserves a caring, trained educator who will track their progress and work to ensure that they’re actually learning. I’m singling out Jeremy here because I’m taking his course, but he is by no means alone on this. Perhaps you run a cMOOC or a plain old MOOC in which you help students teach themselves or maybe even each other. Where does that leave the students who actually need instruction? What if you want to learn more than what your fellow students know?
Well, you can always pay to attend Princeton. I’ll bet you anything that Jeremy is easy to find there, and really helpful too. What I don’t understand is why students who can’t afford the tuition at Coursera’s expensive partner institutions shouldn’t get the same kind of attention from living, breathing professors of their own.