Alone With Thousands of Other People

I’m a little behind on my MOOC, but I can write about what it’s been like so far.

First of all, I didn’t think I’d like the video lectures, but they’re actually kind of helpful. I’m a face-to-face guy, or at least I thought I was. As a student, I’m finding that I actually love the videos because I can pause and go back as often as I want. It makes me think about being in front of the classroom, when I impart glorious wisdom onto students. How much do they miss? I miss an awful lot in a video, so I pause it, go back, and do that two or three more times. In class, the students do ask me to repeat myself or to explain further, but I wonder how often they must wish they could do it just one more time.

The downside to video lectures is just that—they are lectures on a video. The professor, Denise Comer, from Duke University, does a nice job of asking questions and trying to get us to think about our own lives and experiences. She is sure to include graphics and images so we’re not just watching her talk. I’m pleased with the way she uses her own personal experiences as a writer and an “expert” to help us relate to her and to the material she talks about. But it’s straight lecture … on a prerecorded video. I can’t raise my hand and ask for elaboration. I can’t build on a classmate’s question and engage in an impromptu discussion … at least not during the video. I have to sit and listen, maybe take some notes, and try what she asks me to try.

This video experience sounds lonely, and I’m beginning to see the paradox of the MOOC, which is that I’m alone with thousands of other people. I watch the videos alone, but Coursera has an efficient and effective discussion forum for all of us. We’ve had to participate by posting a low-stakes piece of writing and responding to the writing of others. And while I know these other people are out there in the world, this discussion-board experience doesn’t offer the same kind of collaborative learning that a classroom offers. I still feel like I’m by myself. A physical group seems more authentic than the virtual variety. The question is—and I don’t know the answer yet—which kind of group is more effective for learning? As for now, I have more videos to watch, more essays to read, and more writing to complete. I need to catch up.

[Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user Victor1558.]

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