For those who don’t know, a MOOC is a short course that educational institutions place online. The classes are offered free of charge, accessible to anyone who has an Internet connection. A MOOC can take several forms, but the students who take them generally fall under the category of people “learning for the sake of learning.” What a great concept!
|"MOOC poster mathplourde" by Mathieu Plourde (Mathplourde on Flickr)|
In preparing to create my MOOC I registered for a couple of classes through Coursera to see what MOOCs looked like. I took a class titled “Archeology’s Dirty Little Secrets” from Brown University and another titled “Art and Inquiry” from the Museum of Modern Art. Both were taught well, and I learned much. I couldn’t help but think that MOOCs were a wonderful development in education — one that makes learning accessible at no cost to students.
In learning about MOOCs I discovered that although the number of students who register for a class might be quite large (as high as 230,000), the percentage of students completing most MOOCs is quite low, sometimes as low as 13%. In my opinion this low percentage does not necessarily mean that a MOOC has failed, as the completion rate is based on the number of students who pass a class or receive a certificate. I suspect that many students learn what they want from a MOOC and move on, unconcerned with whether they complete the formal assignments or receive a certificate.
The request for me to create a MOOC came in July 2013 and my MOOC is now “in the can” and ready for launch this September. What an adventure it has been.
In creating my MOOC, I found it wasn’t much different than creating any new class. I went through the same process that is familiar to every teacher. I wrote a course description and created a syllabus. I made decisions about specific content and the tasks I would require from students. I created rubrics for evaluating students.
Delivering the curriculum, however, was much different, and I faced quite a learning curve.
First, I had to find a way to condense the 60-90 minute presentations that I had been making for several years into a manageable length of time for an online course. Online students are more likely to watch a 6-7 minute video presentation than one that lasts an extended length of time. I therefore had to radically reduce the length of my presentations. This was quite a task and much more difficult than it sounds.
I approached the problem by creating written documents to accompany my video presentations. For example, if I wanted to bring up ten points about a specific topic, I created a document outlining those ten points. I then used my video presentation to introduce the topic and talk about two or three of the ten points. I’ve left it up to the students taking the class to read the documents if they want to learn more. I consider it my role as a MOOC teacher to highlight significant issues in the curriculum and then let students explore what interests them in greater depth.
A second problem I faced was learning how to teach to a camera. I had never realized just how much teaching depends on the ability to see my students, to look into their eyes and monitor their body language to gauge the effectiveness of what I am doing. I’ve long known that teaching can be described as a constant state of “monitoring and adjusting.” However, I never completely understood that concept until I began teaching to a camera lens. The camera provides no feedback. Say something clearly and the camera doesn’t show its approval. Make a dubious statement and the camera doesn’t blink.
I became more comfortable with the process as I filmed more and more videos. I only hope that the awkwardness I felt in the first videos I filmed is not so evident that it causes students to abandon the class. I taught high school for 30 years, and in many ways I wish I had my first 10-15 years back. The same is true in teaching my first MOOC — I wish I had an opportunity to reshoot the first few videos.
My MOOC is titled “The Art of Teaching History,” and it will go online through Coursera on September 22.
The essence of the class can be seen seen in its title. Teaching any subject, especially history, is an art form. There is no single right way to do it well. I therefore approached my MOOC not as an all-knowing sage who would tell others how to teach history, but as someone who would simply introduce issues that every history teacher confronts.
The central idea of my MOOC is found in the online forum that will accompany the class. Students taking the class will watch the videos and read the documents. They will then be asked to answer reflection questions stating their ideas about teaching history. Those reflections will be used to start an online conversation with history teachers from all over the world about what it means to teach history well.
It should be a fascinating conversation. As I write this blog the class has already registered almost 2200 students from 110 nations. Imagine that!
If you are interested in taking “The Art of Teaching History,” you will need to got to Coursera, create a login and password, and then register for the class. The class, which is sponsored by the Center for College Readiness at Rice University's Glasscock School of Continuing Studies is offered free of charge. You can find the class and information about registering for it at the following link: