A MOOC with a difference

Last week I started the Data, Analytics, and Learning MOOC (DALMOOC) through edX. I signed up for this course because I’m a bit of a data nerd, but have never really got into it in any depth. This course seemed to be a good way to get a basic understanding of what learning analytics are, and the sorts of tools which can be used to analyse and visualise the data.

The content from the first week was, as I expected, an introduction to the concept of learning analytics, and the tools which we’ll be using later in the course. It was all fairly straightforward, and it was presented through a mix of recorded videos and Google Hangouts. DALMOOC is structured a little differently to the other MOOCs which I’ve taken. Rather than being driven by an instructor who releases content each week with corresponding assessment tasks, DALMOOC includes a social learning pathway as well. It uses a tool called ProSolo to facilitate this, and I’ll admit I was a bit wary of using it. I’m not used to having my peers assess my work, so I might use ProSolo to track how I’m progressing but submit my assignments through edX. The distributed nature of the course content has confused a few people (myself included), but I think it’s becoming a bit clearer now.

I’m looking forward to getting some hands-on experience with using these tools over the next few weeks, and seeing if I get inspired to use learning analytics within the library.

My first completed MOOC!

I recently completed the Maps and the Geospatial Revolution MOOC offered by Coursera. This was the second MOOC I started, but it’s the first one that I finished. I even managed to earn a Distinction on my Statement of Accomplishment. I found that the course gave me a great exposure to the free online GIS (Geographic Information Systems) tools that are available. It wasn’t only about the tools, but it also examined the techniques and philosophy behind how to make a good map. Now that I know about these tools, particularly ArcGIS, I’ll certainly be using them more often.

One of the reasons I took the course was to gain a better understanding of GIS so that I could better support the students and staff at my institution who work in this field. I certainly managed to achieve this, and I’m seriously considering enrolling in a postgraduate GIS course next year.

My Mapping with Google map

As part of the Mapping with Google course that I’ve been working on recently, we had to create a map. I decided to create a geocaching-related map, so mine shows the ten oldest active caches in Australia. There are two layers – one with the five oldest active geocaches listed on geocaching.com, and the other has the five oldest active caches listed on geocaching.com.au. It was pretty to easy to create, and you can import any .csv file that has location data in it. This could be latitude and longitude coordinates (as in my case), or addresses. Here’s the finished product:

I thought that ten caches didn’t look very exciting, so I made another map with 200 caches on it (100 in each layer, which is the maximum number of points you can have in a layer). I played around with the styling of the markers a bit, and the caches are grouped by difficulty. I’ll embed that map when I’ve finished tweaking it (and when I’ve got more than 5 minutes left in the day).

[Edited 23/6/13: map added]

All up I found the course pretty interesting and enjoyable. It was quite a bit shorter than the last MOOC I enrolled in, so it was easy to keep motivated and working on the modules. Another factor that kept me interested was that I could see practical uses for the skills and knowledge I was learning. I think that was what was lacking from the computer science MOOC that I enrolled in from Udacity.

I’m now on the lookout for library-related applications of my new skills. All I need to do is find some data …

Me and my MOOCs

As I posted a few months ago, I’d enrolled in an introductory computer science MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) offered by Udacity. I was studying in the self-study mode, so there were no deadlines for submitting assessment tasks. For a couple of weeks I completed some study a couple of nights a week, and finished the first of the seven units in the course.

However, I would now class myself as a drop-out, as I haven’t looked at the course for a couple of months. I’m still enrolled (I think) so it’s there if I get the inclination to return, but I don’t think I will. The course was well-presented, and the content was fine, but I just didn’t get into it. Maybe if I was planning to change careers I would have been more committed, but because I was doing the course more out of personal interest than for professional development I didn’t feel a need to complete it.

I’m certainly not alone in not completing a MOOC. A recent study found that the average completion rate for MOOCs is 7.6%, although the new OUA MOOC seems to be bucking the trend with a reported 26% completion rate. If a bricks-and-mortar university was offering a course which had a completion rate this low, there’d be an outcry. This traditional thinking is being applied to MOOCs, even though the model they use is quite different to a traditional university. It may be that students learnt what they wanted or needed to know within the first few weeks of a MOOC, and didn’t see the point of completing it. Maybe they’ll return and complete some more of the course later. Because it’s free to enrol in a MOOC, there’s no pressure on students to stick with a course they don’t like in order to justify spending money on their education. Students (usually) enter traditional universities to graduate with a qualification that will help them with their career. Because MOOCs don’t currently offer this pathway, the “success” of students needs to be measured differently.

However, my experience with this MOOC hasn’t turned me off the idea completely. I’ve enrolled in an edX MOOC being offered by Harvard University which is due to start in October. It’s called Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science, and I think it will be interesting. It definitely falls into the “personal interest” rather than “professional development” category. Although maybe I could learn something that will help me win our staff ANZAC biscuit baking competition next year …