Time to spare and MOOCing around

I admit, I cheat. Although I’m already in for the long-term with the Department of Politics and International Relations’ Master’s programme, I nevertheless went out to look for a little something on the side.

The reasons for this are spare-time and professional advancement. Although a distance learning postgrad course is quite challenging and time consuming, I still have some spare-time at the moment. As a second job I am a private tutor for English and German. (In my first job, a really nasty one, I am a job hunter.) Yet, here in Chile March is the month after the summer holidays (they last 3 months!), when things start slowly, very slowly, to get back into routine. So, as people are adjusting to the new work and school schedules they have to prioritize other things than language learning. That means business is slow. (By the way, the four months prior to March are even worse, as people are either in summer holiday mood, or prepare themselves to get into summer holidays mood.)

In order to escape such idiosyncrasies, and that awkward situation of low and unstable income, I thought it might be a good idea to go for some certificate, because, you know, employers like certificates. They convey in authoritative language that the holder is a special, valuable, and intelligent member of society – well, most of us know that this is not necessarily the case, but so be it. I thus signed up for my first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), called ‘University Teaching 101’. It commenced last week Monday and teaches how to teach, something I quite enjoy working in, despite the unfavorable conditions outlined above.

The course is hosted by coursera and material, i.e. video lectures and PDF’s are supplied by Johns Hopkins University. The conveyors claim that there are 13000+ students enrolled in this course. Considered that in MOOC’s the number of enrolled students doesn’t equal the number of actual students it still remains an impressive number, even if supposed that only half of the students actually participate. The pillars of the course are five 10-30 minutes video lectures, two or three journal articles, and forum discussions. Of latter ones there are way too many to crawl through them all as many are created by the students themselves. So I thought it wiser to just stick to those with the weekly discussions. For campus students, or those who never did a MOOC, this might seem quite a bit outlandish, but forum discussion is essential for knowledge creation and transmission. Other than in classroom lectures the educators take two steps back, when it comes to distance learning. Most of the time, educators pose a question for discussion, and then hardly intervene. It was like this at the OU, here at Leicester distance learning, and it’s like this in this MOOC. In my view, however, that’s still only second best, because personal, face-to-face interaction can’t be dissolved into bits and bytes. There’s just so much more to social interaction than language – and language is just so much more than social interaction. Part of the learning experience is also peer reviewing. We will have to mark at least four assignments uploaded by our colleagues. I’m quite looking forward to this exercise, because marking teaches you most of the time at least as much as reading and writing.

This material is first class, as one would expect from Johns Hopkins. The video lectures are clear and advance creative approaches to teaching. The first week, for example, dealt with the ‘science of learning’ and the ‘feeding the chickens’ approach that is still too common in education. This approach basically is centered on the contention that the educator has some stuff to teach, throws it out to students the same way one throws food at chickens, and whatever sticks is seen as successful teaching. The science of learning on the other hand aims to personalize teaching, how it could be tailored to individual needs. One suggestion that came up is data collection. Data about the student is collected as soon as he or she enters kindergarten. The file is then passed on to school and university, so that educators are able to view instantly the weaknesses and strengths of people and so would be able to tailor teaching to each student even in bigger classrooms.

Although data collection is seen as innovative, it sounds creepy to me. I grew up in communist Germany and it was normal that dissenters had a file with the authorities. So naturally, I have inhibitions to files that are in the possession of authorities. They reveal a lot about the person, in fact, education files would reveal everything, and are easy to manipulate, especially in our digital age. As such, people become even more easily manipulable. I don’t think it’s a good solution to create something like this again. It’s just too much power in the hands of the state-capital complex. I hope as the course progresses better methods will emerge.

In the end I hope to hold a valid certificate in my hands that tells me, well rather future employers, that I have reasonable ability to teach. MOOCing around, whether for personal interest or to enhance employability, I think, is always a good idea!

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Chris

About Chris

Chris has now graduated from the University of Leicester. Hi there. I’m native German and live in Santiago de Chile. I’m en route to an MA International Relations and World Order via distance learning. My hobbies are languages and – surprise – International Relations. I will blog about everything here and there, as well as the uphill battles distance learners fight.

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