Thursday, April 23, 2015

MOOCs + brick and mortar

As I've said before, I love MOOCs. For many reasons. I'm not on the "MOOCs will take over education and replace traditional universities!" bandwagon yet*, but I think they're a fantastic new way to learn.

Anyway, it has been interesting teaching at UQ so far because everything is online. Every room automatically records lectures when they take place, both audio and projector capture, and automatically links them to their appropriate course websites. Assignments are turned in electronically and can be marked electronically. It's fantastic.**

I cannot possibly describe how unbelievably jealous I am of undergrads' experience with this setup. I would have gotten immeasurably more out of my undergrad education if I had had lecture videos to refer to***. And I know this for sure in part due to my experience with MOOCs.

The way I watch MOOC videos is: turn the speed up to about 1.7x, depending on the speaker. Pause when there is a slide with technical content or a lot of words on it, read/process it, unpause. Go back and rewatch bits as desired/needed. Only go on to the next video when you've fully understood the current one. Come back months later when you want to use them as a reference.

Compare this to the typical lecture experience where the overall class is almost always too slow-paced, but sporadic bits are too fast, and/or sporadically you get lost in thought and tune out for a minute, and after the first such incident you're lost for a big chunk of the lecture thereafter, perhaps the whole thing. And if you have a really inconsiderate teacher who both doesn't follow a textbook and doesn't provide their own comprehensive notes (see footnote 3 again), you're just SOL. Hopefully you can reconstruct what you need based on your own imperfect transcription of whatever incomplete mess of partially-legible stuff was written on the board!

I therefore have completely sympathy for the fact that only about a third of my large lecture class attends lectures. I'm frankly shocked it's that high. I'm very jealous of this MOOC-style videos + brick and mortar hybrid system.


*Recent relevant news: At MR, Tyler agrees with me that low retention rates are a weak argument against MOOCs and cites a new article showing why: among students who sign up for a course certification, completion rates are much higher. So yes, obviously the large fraction of people who sign up for MOOCs to browse a bit and try them out won't complete them at a high rate, but that says nothing about the minority who are serious about completing them.

**Actually this has been my experience in Australia in general - everything has been moved online wonderfully seamlessly compared to the U.S. I suspect it is one of the upsides to the lack of legal privacy protections.

***And if professors hadn't been able to get away with really unbelievably annoying crap like assigning a textbook that defines mathematical concepts in one way and uses one notation to derive some results, but then lecturing with different definitions and different notation to prove the equivalence with what the textbook used as definitions. This was by far the most frustrating thing about Caltech math classes, and if a professor at UQ tried it they would be slaughtered in their teaching evaluations.****

****Well of course they would also be slaughtered in their evaluations for being brutally hard, so I'm not defending evaluations as a metric for teaching or a tool for issuing guidelines for teaching. But at least they do force professors to be organized.*****

*****You're not alone, I'm also annoyed by how many footnote rants I can't help going on

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