Sunday, July 27, 2014

Still MOOCing Along...

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Week 4 of the Foundations of Virtual Instruction MOOC I started on June 30th is wrapping up today. By this time next week, I will hopefully have successfully completed my first MOOC.

Overall, it's been an interesting experience. Because I've completed an online masters degree, read extensively on virtual learning, taken an online course in facilitating virtual PD courses, and even helped design and facilitate a few online staff development courses in my school district, much of the content covered has been somewhat familiar to me. The upside of this has been my ability to focus more on the experience than the content in the course.

Quick Updates

In case you read my post on starting this MOOC, or if you decide to go back and read it, I'll update a few of my early observations:

  • The 2 to 4 hours per week of work was a pretty accurate estimate. I've spent that much time on the content most weeks. Closer to 2 hours than 4.
  • After a couple of weeks in the course and success on the quizzes, I decided to go ahead and pay for the Coursera Signature Track option, which will allow me to earn a verified certificate.  I'll put this on my CV/resume at some point and we will see if this makes any difference in future employment endeavors I might pursue.
  • In my last post, I estimated there were about 200 people in the course based on activity in the discussion forums. Boy, was I off on that estimate! At the end of our first week in the class, the instructor sent us an update letting us know that there were over 12,000 people enrolled in the course!

New Observations and Thoughts

I'm really glad this hasn't been a full-blown college course. I had to say goodbye to a very precious pet during the second week of the course and have also been fighting allergies or something for the past week, so my enthusiasm for learning hasn't been what it normally is.

Although I've spoken to others who've taken MOOCs that they felt were the equivalent to college courses, I think this course is a pared down version. There is a ton of material in the lectures each week, but the assignments have not been super challenging. Multiple choice quizzes that make sure we are understanding the content which are between 8 and 10 questions each week plus one assignment where we had to turn in a lesson plan and then assess three of our peers plans have not been too demanding. And in the end, if things did become too overwhelming, I could have quit. No GPA to worry about. No harm, no foul. The no GPA part is good, because the final exam coming this week might be a challenge, given that I haven't been as focused a student as usual (see previous paragraph).

I do need to make an A in the course though if I want to keep open the option of doing an 11 week practicum with UC Irvine after finishing three more Coursera courses. Fingers crossed!

Discussion Boards Weren't So Bad

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In my previous post I mentioned that the discussion boards were going to be a challenge, and that I would have to be ok with participating in conversations while missing a whole lot of others at the same time. Well, the discussion boards did become the most interesting part of the course for me, but not in the way that I thought they would. I found myself hardly participating on the boards that were tied to the course content (these were encouraged but not required) and focusing a lot more on tangent topics/conversations started by my fellow students. I've been involved in threads on iPads in the Classroom, a thread that cropped up discussing the usefulness of the legal content presented this past week, and my favorite thread which has been actively discussing the quality of assignments we peer assessed this week.

I was especially interested/distressed to find out that even in MOOCs, people try to cheat! Reports of lesson plans copied entirely from other locations on the Internet (not even in a format that met the rubric) were posted on the discussion board. There is a way to report these in Coursera. I should not be shocked, but I was. I am always disheartened by cheating. Especially from people involved in education!

Reports of cheating aside, I've really enjoyed making connections and hearing the perspectives of people from K-12 to higher ed and from California to New Zealand to Malta. It has been a refreshing reminder of the very large world we live in, how connected it can be thanks to today's technology, and of the similar challenges that face education and educators everywhere.

As I write this, I'm in sixth place in discussion board participation. That's with just 52 posts on my part, which tells you how active the boards are (or aren't) even with 12,000 people enrolled in the course. 

One More Week...

Week 5, the final week of this course, starts tomorrow. After I survive the final exam and finish out the course, I'll be sure to share my final thoughts. Including whether or not I'll go on to the next course in the four course sequence. 

Any other MOOCers out there? I'd love for you to share your impressions/thoughts/experiences in the comments, including links back to your own reflective blog posts. :-)

All original work in this post by Sandy Kendell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please see specifics on my re-use policy in the right-hand column of my blog before re-posting/re-using any of my blog content.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day USA!!

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I have never been shy about my pride in being a citizen of The United States of America. Our country is certainly not perfect, but it is structured in such a way that we can all work together, even when our views differ, to come closer and closer to being a nation that truly does provide liberty and justice for all.

We would not be a nation today had it not been for a small group of men coming together in 1776 for the purpose of declaring independence. Most of us in the US can recite these famous words of The Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

But have you ever read the entire Declaration? I fear for most of us, that answer is "No." Or we read it so very long ago in school that we don't even remember. There is a sadness, I think, in being unfamiliar with the document that was responsible for launching the founding of our country.

So, I encourage you and your family and friends, and especially any children who are with you today, to take 15 minutes out of your festivities and watch the video below. Morgan Freeman's introduction to a dramatic reading of the Declaration is nearly as moving as the words of the document itself.

Make an effort. I think you'll be glad you did. Happy Independence Day!

All original work in this post by Sandy Kendell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please see specifics on my re-use policy in the right-hand column of my blog before re-posting/re-using any of my blog content.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

So I'm Taking a MOOC...

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Late last week I was innocently checking my Twitter feed, and I saw an announcement for a MOOC called Foundations of Virtual Instruction.  I clicked to investigate, and I was immediately intrigued for several reasons.

  • The course is aimed at learning about K-12 online instruction, which I'm interested in knowing more about.
  • The course is offered through Coursera, a known online learning platform which I have heard and read good things about.
  • The course is offered by an existing higher education institution, the University of California at Irvine.
  • The course lasts five weeks and requires two to four hours of work per week. Perfect for summer learning, especially since I work through the summer.
  • The course is taught by an instructor who has experience in teaching online in K-12. (You can watch the video on the course info page to learn more about her.)
  • I can take the course for FREE, but for a small fee I can also earn a verified certificate that proves I have completed the coursework. (More about this below.)

So, I found out about this course late last week and made the decision to jump in and sign up a couple of days before the course started on June 30th.

My Experience So Far
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I will sum up my experience so far with the sophisticated phrase: "It's been really cool!"

Here is what I have liked:
  • The course syllabus clearly communicates what is expected and how the course grade will be calculated.
  • The video lectures are professionally created and presented in short chunks and are interactive! During the videos, pauses are built in which ask you to type in a short answer or to answer a multiple choice question based on what you are learning. I don't know if data is kept on these questions, but they are excellent for giving the learner an opportunity to reflect on what they are learning.
  • I have the option to earn a verified certificate for a small fee. I signed up for the verified certificate trial so I could evaluate the quality of the course and my likelihood of completing it (I've started a couple of MOOCs in the past and not made it through...) before paying any money. 
  • They are serious about the verification thing! I had to take a headshot of myself with my webcam and input a typing sample that would identify me by my unique typing pattern prior to taking the first quiz! Apparently, I will have to do this each time I take or turn in any assignment in the course that is graded. This is more verification than I had to do for the online master's degree I completed four years ago!
  • This course is the first in a set of courses that build upon each other. If I complete all four courses and earn verified certificates for each of them plus complete a capstone project, I can earn a Specialization Certificate from UC Irvine and Coursera. Coursera and its partner organizations currently offer 10 different specializations. It's not the same as college credit, but it is cost effective and shows your current or prospective employer that you are serious about continuously educating yourself.
  • Based on the activity in the discussion forums, there are over 200 people in this course, and they are literally from all over the world! It's fascinating to see all of these people, in some cases to get a piece of their story, and along the way learn from their insights.

The one big challenge for me...

  • Did I mention over 200 people? It may be many, many more than that; there is no official listing of the members of the course that I have found. The discussion boards became overwhelming to me within the first two days. People posting literally all the time from time zones around the world. The discussion boards are not required as far as the grade for the course goes, but they are highly encouraged in order for participants to engage more with the material. I want to engage with others, because I'm that kind of learner. I'm going to have to make peace with the fact that I can't read everyone's contributions, and much like I do on Twitter, I will just catch and interact with a few. I have managed to have more interaction on the "unofficial" open discussion boards which are not based on course content. So hopefully that will continue to be a place for connection.

So far, so good! The positives are definitely outweighing the challenges four days in to the course. Based on my experience thus far, I think Summer 2014 might see me complete my first MOOC. I will keep you posted!

Have you had any experiences with MOOCs? If so, I'd love to hear about it! Please leave a comment below. :-)

All original work in this post by Sandy Kendell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please see specifics on my re-use policy in the right-hand column of my blog before re-posting/re-using any of my blog content.