Please forgive me. This post is going to be more than a little self-serving, but as one of the very few people who actually completed Princeton Professor and Friend of this Blog Jeremy Adelman’s World History MOOC I think I’ve earned that privilege. I found this month-old Daily Princetonian article last night on the Twitterz;
Adelman agreed to teach the course for three years after which the University will conduct a thorough review of its performance. He said that he will offer the course next fall on a new startup platform NovoEd that allows for greater student engagement.
Adelman said that he considered the first year’s course a failure.
“Version 1.0 failed. I hadn’t realized how much the rituals of two physical lectures a week were like the spinal cord of the course,” he said. “It was like this blah course.”
Adelman said he also found that students were not engaging in the online discussion forums with non-University students, and many were not watching lectures regularly, waiting until right before the exams.
However, he said that he made adjustments to the course that resulted in very interactive projects and high participation, creating online blogs and project assignments that would be posted online.
Version 1.0 was, of course, the MOOC that inspired my 16-part critique of the class (which you can find here if you scroll down). I’d heard a lot of the stuff in that article exchanging e-mails with Jeremy and talking to him briefly after our AHA panel back in January, but I never heard him describe that course I took as a failure before.
I actually think he’s being more than a little hard on himself. The fault here lies not with the superprofessor or the students, but with the course design. And I’m not talking about the assignments which he has apparently tweaked and improved, but with the whole xMOOC-oriented similarity to his ordinary face-to-face World History class.
If you must MOOC, says me, then you really should blow the whole thing up and start the world afresh. That means little or no lectures. With respect to history, this would make introductory courses an impossibility since students wouldn’t know the content otherwise. Coursera would hate it, but this structure could put the kind of global dialogue that Jeremy loves so much front and center. Imagine a worldwide research methods course during which students could share their findings with each other! Or even a historiography course in which students explain how historians from different lands around the world have confronted similar historiographic problems.
I remember trying to explain cMOOCs to Jeremy somewhere in the comments here that I won’t dig up. I hope that helped. Indeed, I’m delighted to see that he’s retained the rights to his own course, thereby making it possible for him to migrate to a better platform than Coursera for the kinds of really innovative pedagogy which he enjoys. I look forward to hearing about the details of the new course. Indeed, at this rate I may have to stop referring to Jeremy as a superprofessor.
Perhaps it’s not the MOOCs themselves are the problem then, but just the “massive” part. Or maybe even just the corporate part. These days, I actually think it might be interesting to design a non-massive, online history course that would supplement rather than replace other traditional history classes. Keeping to that principle would require what’s left of MOOCs to remain in the hands of caring faculty like Jeremy, rather than the folks down the road at Penn who have actually invested in Coursera, hoping to use West Philadelphia as a base to colonize the world.
MOOCs as pedagogical experiments rather than MOOCs as weapons. It could happen. Those nice Canadian people have been trying to do things that way for years. Jeremy’s Canadian. It all kind of makes sense now, doesn’t it?