Oliver's Observatory

The Blog & Observations of Oliver H. Evans

Pursuing Two MOOCs

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. At present, one of the largest organizations offering MOOCs—Coursera—counts over 1.2 million people enrolled in 123 courses. And depending on whether Coursera’s enrollment numbers are a duplicated or unduplicated headcount, I am one (or two) of those more than 1.2. million people, for I am enrolled in two courses: Model Thinking and Introduction to Mathematical Thinking. MOOCs are college-level course. At the moment, the courses can result in a certificate, but MOOCs do not carry college credit. And although the institutions offering MOOCs are well-known institutions of higher education, I cannot claim that I am now a student either at the University of Michigan or Stanford. Interestingly, the perceived failure of the president of the University of Virginia to jump quickly enough into online educational ventures  may have been a factor in her dismissal, which was quickly followed by her reinstatement, although the issues surrounding the events at the University of Virginia are, as Lady Macbeth once said of hell, "murky" and may have included the her wardrobe.

Massive refers to the number of people enrolled in such a course, partly a function of the global reach of MOOCs, since MOOCs are online. Thus anywhere the internet reaches, people can enroll in a MOOC. And enrollments in a given MOOC sometimes reach into the hundreds of thousands, partly since the course is both free and open to anyone who establishes a user name and password and pledges to abide by the honor code. In other words, a person with or without a high school diploma, with or without the qualifications to be admitted to the University of Michigan or Stanford, and with or without the prerequisite knowledge or abilities (for example, it appears that one needs an ability to communicate through written English, but no one asked me to prove it) can enroll in a MOOC.

I am both very serious in my pursuit of Model Thinking and Introduction to Mathematical Thinking and respectful of the potential of MOOCs. MOOCs are exciting and intriguing to me for a variety of reasons, which I will discuss in a future post. On the simplest level, MOOCs may be an extraordinarily innovative idea in exploring the potential of expanding access to higher education. And as should be the case with innovation, MOOCs are being prototyped and offered before anyone knows whether or not they will work or even what their implications are for higher education. I did smile, for example, when I took the honor pledge because neither Professor Page nor Professor Devlin has any idea whether I really exist or whether I can be trusted. But innovation must be characterized by a rapid prototyping process. If MOOCs, which include a commitment to access, waited to know their outcome, they would never get started, because most institutions of higher education follow the dictum “Do nothing for the first time.”

So I simply wanted to announce through this Blog that I have enrolled in two MOOCs. My commitment to anyone who cares to follow my posts is to report in future posts exactly how I proceed. Most importantly, I will engage in self-assessment as to what I have learned from this experience. Should you already be pursuing a MOOC, or should you have the leisure to pursue lifelong learning and decide to sign up for a MOOC, I would be delighted to be in conversation with you.