Stepping into the land of MOOC

A while ago I began hearing about this new world of education called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  One professor teaching tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of students online, at no cost, with the apparent goal of opening up high quality education to all who might enjoy and benefit from it.  Being one who already appreciated the philosophy of information sharing, as embodied in technologies like Wikipedia, this sounded really fantastic.  Moreover, I must openly admit, that being the sort of professor who truly enjoys teaching large classes, this really felt like something I wanted to try.  Can one effectively teach so many students?  What is the experience like?  What does one learn about teaching in this sort of extreme context?

Of course I then heard some of the concerns.  Clearly there is more to this than the free open sharing of education.  Someone hopes to make some money off of this somehow.  Too many investors are pouring too much money into MOOCs, and the platforms used to host them, to deny that this phenomenon will only be sustained if there is some sort of business model (or models) that reward those involved.  What are those models?  Will those models result in dramatic changes in the public education system?  If so, will those changes have a negative impact, or could the appearance of MOOCs actually provide a long needed impetus for change in the University and College system?

In the context of all this I was asked to submit a proposal to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to mount an Introductory Psychology MOOC on the Coursera platform.  Being one who has extreme difficulty saying no to any new opportunity I couldn’t resist.  I submitted a proposal and with great administrative support I won it (thanks Laurie and crew!), and as I type today we are four days into the eight week course.  Four fascinating days filled mostly with really great vibes.

Given this is such a new world for me I decided I’d write a digital equivalent of a travel log.  Actually I meant to begin it about a week ago, as I was anticipating the MOOC.  However, one thing I learned is that it takes a lot of time and thought to get a MOOC ready to go … there was no time last week for blogging!  But now things to be a little more under control, so this entry stands as my introduction.  Yes my feet are already planted firmly on MOOC land, I have arrived, and the students – about 30,000 of the 58,000 registered – have arrived, and I am sincerely amazed at how comfortable I feel, despite the fact that this place is full of Cannibals!  Ah, but that’s for the next chapter.

So my goals in this blog are to recount this particular journey while also highlighting some of my views on MOOCs and public education reform along the way.  I have invited my #CognitiveCannibals (those would be my students) to follow and comment on the blog, so don’t be surprised if they chime in along the way … I hope all of you feel free sharing your perspectives and ideas as we go.  OK, next step, giving a brief overview of Week 1 …

36 Replies to “Stepping into the land of MOOC”

  1. You obviously have put a lot of effort into this course with some innovative ideas. You also have had some teething troubles and things haven’t been as slick as I guess you would wish. I think more attention needs to be given to how you cater for so many students and the cultural differences.

    Having just completed the Irrationality Course by Dan Airey I can say that this was one of the best organised and presented courses I’ve ever done. For example the pre course start week of acculturation etc.

    He has also been collecting lots of data and has been working on a crowdsourcing project with the students to see how the ideas in his course can be applied to MOOCS and Coursera in particular.

    I think it might be valuable to swop insights and experience.

    1. Hi, Steve! Your manner of lecturing is realy fascinating (by the way, ‘fascinating’ seems to be my favourite, too:-)). You’ve done a great job summarizing the essentials of Psychology in a very compact set – a precious quality of a lecturer (I am sure of that – I’ve been lecturing for decades. But I’m happily learning from you). And, since I am a linguistically-crazy person, I love your ideomatic language! Oh, and I also participated in Dan Ariely’s Irrationality Behavior! Thank you for the inspiration you give!

      1. I have idiomatic language? Who freakin knew? Ha!

        You guys are certainly making me want to seek out and chat with this Dan guy. You know, my life is so busy that I often jump right from one major project to another … from deep end to deep end it often seems. So as some of you have noted, I do seem to be discovering things fresh when, with more time, I could have learned from those who went before. To be honest though, I really did not have a sense of what it meant to actually host a MOOC and it’s hard to relate to others until you do … hard to understand why certain things are relevant. For me it sometimes seems I first jump into a new deep end and swim like heck my way first … then I’m ready to learn some strokes used by other folks to make my swimming better.

        1. ‘Very cool’ and ‘so check that out’ are my favourite.
          It’s no wonder you always seem to have a good rapport with your students. Your energy and passion is easily transferable. I studied some parts of your lectures with another professor but his lack of energy soon put me to sleep.
          You mentionned that this course is offered by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Are charitable organisations the main source of income of MOOCs? Or are the more long-term business models dominating (like charging employers)?
          There is a lot of debate surrounding MOOC, as you mentionned, so I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts!

          1. Thanks for the kind words!

            Often universities cover the costs to mount a MOOC … the cost is typically in the $30Gs range. We’ll get to that in upcoming blogs 🙂 Early MOOCs tended to be on very technical topics, like artificial intelligence or computer programming. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation very much liked the idea of open assess to quality education, but they felt there was a need for more entry level, general interest courses. So they put out a funding competition whereby interested institutions could suggest courses they would mount, and mine was one of two courses at the University of Toronto who they decided to fund. Thanks!!

            So no, not all MOOCs are sponsored by the Gates Foundation, just a subset.

  2. Hi Steve! I’m amazed with the course, I’ve already posted about it on the discussion forum… About how your course is increasing my interest in psychology field and about your outstanding way of teaching…really passionate… It’s been an fantastic experience… Thank you…

    1. Psychology is an easy course to teach … as you’re discovering, there is a lot of really interesting stuff in any Introductory Psychology course. I consider myself very lucky to get to teach this to all of you.

  3. Well…. I saw “TVO Best Lecture Talk on Critical Thinking and Eating Meat” a couple days ago and haven’t eaten meat since….. It got me thinking, and that led me to look for information. I wasn’t expecting a Psychology course to change my life that way… 🙂 …
    Congratulations on your MOOC! I am loving it!

    1. Wow Mere … for me, it was Mark Rowlands, Philosopher from Miami and author of many books, who messed up my head and got me thinking and learning about where my food came from. Responses like yours are extremely humbling.

  4. Dear Prof Steve, you are leading a fantastic MOOC for us!
    I am loving your style of teaching and your approach overall to the subject. You make learning lot of fun, and are trying to deploy quite some interesting tools in our hands, which has doubled my interest in the course!
    One can clearly see the efforts and thought that must have gone into organizing this course..I really loved the surveys during first week, and things seem to be getting much more interesting as we move forward.
    I look forward to see you on the videos, and also to read your posts & side dish videos as soon as they are published. I love the way you come in front of us and offer your perspectives on some of the issues we actively discuss on the forum. Its enlightening!

    You come across as a very genuine, open and honest person. I feel there’s much more than just psychology to learn from you. I wish I was a full-time student at this time!
    Thank you for this wonderful experience Steve!!

    1. Thank you Ruta! Infact you actually wrote for most of us who are part of this fantastic journey lead by Steve. I am proud being part of this fabulous team and being called Cannibals :). Thank you.

  5. I’m (re)taking your Intro Psych MOOC course with my 14-year-old son to observe what I expected to be best practice in both lecture style and online tools. I haven’t been disappointed. We are both very impressed by your charismatic, engaging and genuine lecture style, and all the extra offerings so far.
    Keep up the great work!

  6. I am really enjoying the lectures and the style of teaching on this course. Yes, there have been some teething problems( I still cannot submit my hypothesis on Digitallabcoat and my links don’t work) but I am loving the opportunity to learn. I could not afford this course at the moment if it was not free so I am very appreciative!

    The side lecture on evolution and creationism was the clearest and most succinct explanation I have ever heard. The two notions have not sat so easily with me before. The test of how good it was was that I could explain it myself afterwards. The tips on respecting other’s opinions was also good and helpful in our daily living.

    I love the idea that we can request some answers and topics…Wow!
    On that topic I am not sure where to post this so I will mention it here. Within 2 months I lost my Dad and my Aunt. My Dad died 9 days after prostate cancer was diagnosed. Earlier that month his companion of 35 years died. He did not know she had cancer also. Both my father and Aunt “saw” people who were dead in the days before they died. My father asked if his companion had been sitting there. I am not sure if he was aware of the fact she had died at the time. Apparently, this is a well-known phenomenon to palliative care workers. I wonder if you could provide some theories as to what may be going on in the brain in the last few days and hours of life. I know some would believe in a spiritual explanation but I am looking for a scientific one. In neither case did the dying person exhibit fear. My father asked very casually. Yes, the last 18 months have been rough!
    Thanks so much for running this course.

    1. I added this to the suggestions for Week 8 … and thanks to you I’ve started reading “On Death and Dying”. It really is amazing how seldom most of us deeply consider our own mortality. I’m finding the book really thought provoking … makes me feel like I should be spending some time in palliative care facilities just chatting with patients and giving them the respect they deserve.

      We’ll see if this becomes a lecture … but it has certainly taught me something!

  7. Thank you, Mr. Joordens for teaching the course and in place for all teaching another course for free. I´m very grateful that you´re sacrificing your time for us.

    Your course is great, i´m waiting every week for your next (fully enthusiastic and mind-blowing) video-lectures. So please stay doing so, i hope that you will teach many other courses going more in the details of psychology.

    With regards

    1. I wouldn’t say I’m sacrificing my time by any stretch, but thanks for the sentiment. For me and my team, this is all kind of like visiting this place you’ve heard about … this newly discovered world called MOOC … I really had to experience it, especially because I want to form some informed opinions about MOOCs and their place in psychology. So thanks to all of you its like we’re taking this little trip together in this new land.

  8. Hi Steve!
    Fellow cannibal here :). Just wanted to say I am so thrilled with the course…it’s my first MOOC, I signed up for a few around the same time, and it is by far my favorite! Such a fascinating subject to begin with but your passion and enthusiasm really make the course. Happy to see you blogging a bit, and hopefully I’ll be successful in recruiting a few new cannibals.

  9. Wow, thanks a lot Steve. You’re really such a great teacher. I really enjoy every moment in the video lectures and most part is you really try your best to explain the subject matter to be able for us to understand it fully. You ‘re a blessing. :)))

  10. I find it ironically humorous that you refer to us as cannibals coming from a devote vegetarian. I do understand the context in which you use this moniker but taken out of context, it still is amusing. I’m enjoying this whole MOOC experience. I’m especially enjoying your passion and creativity in wanting to help your cannibals grasp and retain the information. The only thing that stresses me is that I have a memory like a sieve. What I learn goes into my pre-conscious and I require some stimuli to bring it to consciousness. The summary that was posted for the 2nd week’s lecture was great.

    1. Yeah, it is a little ironic … although I also find it interesting that humans find the idea of eating human flesh so utterly repulsive, but have no problem at all chowing down on the flesh of almost every other living critter. Sometimes it’s all about relabelling … pig flesh = pork, cow flesh = beef, or hamburger, flesh mixed with whatever is lying around = hotdog … ha! 🙂 I don’t mean this to sound offensive … I was there for most of my life. It’s just interesting.

      Anyway, we’ll be talking about memory soon! Hopefully some of what you learn you’ll find helpful … either that or you’ll forget it all before it’s helpful.

  11. I am new to this MOOC thing myself and one of my first questions was – free? Really? What’s the catch? Somebody is paying professors for their time and I doubt it’s all through charitable foundations.

    No, ultimately, what will happen is this will become another forum for ad serving, just like Facebook, your email, the free apps on your smart phone, YouTube, etc. I have no doubt that soon we will be seeing all kinds of ads blossoming forth on the Coursera web pages. Taking a course in Psychology? How about a plug for an antidepressant?

    But that’s the way of the world. There is always a trade off.

    1. You could be right Terrie, although I don’t think that is in the air at all. There are lots of things people are worried about (and I really have to get back to that in my blog!) but that isn’t one mentioned often. For now though, there is no catch, and my hope is that there never will be in terms of providing free access to a high quality educational experience. Let’s see.

      And as one quick aside, yes I am being paid, but just my normal salary. There is no top-up for doing the MOOC. I think that is common now too … the profs who are doing this like the concept and enjoy the experience. But yeah, even that novelty may wear off at some point. It certain is a lot of extra “work”, or at least invested time. Eventually profs will have to be compensated in some form I would imagine.

  12. Dear Steve, I wanted to add my thanks for the considerable effort you’ve put into this course. I am following the course avidly but for a slightly different reason to most of your other students, I hope you don’t mind! I’m a clinical psychologist in the UK and teach psychology to med students at Imperial College London and am learning loads from you about teaching psychology online. I’m sure you are also inspiring many other psychology teachers to use technology creatively through this course. I realise you must be hugely busy keeping up with the main task of teaching but if you find any time to pass on any lessons learned about the experience of running the course they will be greatly appreciated. Thanks again and keep up the good work, if there is anything I can do to help just let me know.

    1. Hi David. That’s extremely flattering. Thank you. I hope I have something to offer that is useful! Hopefully I don’t muck things up too much when we hit the clinical stuff in Week 7! 🙂

  13. Hi Steve,

    This really isn’t a comment but a question regarding the peerscholar system. I started a thread (yeah, imagine that) re an awful experience in Peer reviews in another class and while pondering how peerscholar might make for a better experience. I’m going to cut and paste something I wrote in there in the hope you can let me know if what I suggest is in place or had been considered or is just silly:

    What if:

    The peer assessment’s took in the following:

    1) We all fill out a survey before we take any of the courses on COURSERA and there are some questions in the particular survey for this class like “Please indicate your highest level of education.’ “Have you studied psychology before?” also questions about native language, age

    2) Answers to those questions put you in some kind of ranking as a peer assessor. For instance Those having a psych degree that spoke latvian and were over the age of 102 would be in one assessor category while English speaking 8th graders would be another category….obviously those categories are ridiculous (I guess) but some kind of categories based on the survey answers we give that made sense.

    3) Take a mix of those assessor categories and assign some mix of them to each individual. Say I’m a white male age 40 with an associates degree in auto mechanics. I might get assigned 1 assessor from a group less educated or X away from my profile from my survey answers, 1 from the higher educated group (or whatever is appropriate, again, given my Survey profile) and the rest from some ranking that was most “like” me.

    4) This would still allow for the randomness we’re looking for along with some assumed measure of certainty that we’d be getting the best range of experience to assess “me”.

    Does that make sense how I explained it? Is something like that already written into how some of these peer thingy’s work or is it just , here’s 5 folks that got spit out by the system? This wouldn’t be perfect, but it “feels” like it might work and the info is there to do it. I don’t even think what group the individual assessor’s falls into would need to be shown….I dunno, too much maybe?

    1. Hi Steven. Thanks as always for your thoughtful post.

      Let me begin by saying that I really hope we can use peerScholar as it allows much more flexibility over how things are set up and run. I am withholding judgment in part because DL didn’t go as well as hoped, at least initially. We are 99% sure mTuner will go smoothly, but if it blows up after DL slightly blew up, then I may not risk peerScholar blowing up … and may instead go with the Coursera peer assessment tool. I don’t want to try my students patience too much! But DL should run smoothly now, and mTuner should work fine too … and if so, then peerScholar will be tried! Woohoo.

      OK, I read through your post and I see what you’re saying … and I guess we do have some of the data you suggest (I think). But man, while I like the idea, I don’t think the integration of peerScholar with Coursera will be sufficient to allow that level of control. BUT, we could do a research project of a sort. We could leave it to randomness once again, but then ask you how much you benefitted from the experience. Then, post-hoc, we could compare benefits as a function of the group of reviewers you got to see if your intuition is correct. Would students who get reviewers that have a wider range of skills or experience feel they benefitted more? If so, that would provide a good empirical justification for building in the sort of process you suggest.

      The joys of educational psychology!

  14. Hi Professor Joordens. Do you, or your University, have an opinion about what’s happening with psychology (and I mean any of its 300 branches) and the new discussion raised by the soon-to-be-published DSM V? Do you think the bio-sciences will kick us out of the road? I would like to read about it in this blog.

    Maybe you have read about US NIMH’s RDoC which they pronounce as “nothing less than a plan to transform clinical practice by bringing a new generation of research to inform how we diagnose and treat mental disorders.”

    I suppose I’m not the only one feeling the floor a little slippery.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Mauricio. Let me begin with full disclosure. One of the authors of the proposed new DSM is a colleague of mine; Michael Bagby. Michael has only been at UTSC for a couple of years, but he seems a very reasonable guy. I am not a clinician myself, so I cannot claim to truly understand the impact it will have should the new DSM philosophy come into play. From what I have heard, yes it aims to bring a more scientific approach to clinical psychology, including a heavier weighting oncognitive neuroscience research (the bio-sciences you are referring to I think), and it also aims to blur the distinction between mental “illness” and normal mental funcitioning, in ways I will echo in Week 7. I also know there is some serious debate about it, and that some parties see it as a too radical departure from the traditional approach (perhaps you are in this camp).

      I have strong opinions on quite a few issues, but usually I like to know an issue at least relatively well before I get too extreme in my views. I don’t feel I know this issue that well yet. From the little I know, I think I’m in favor of the change, and again you will see some of that reflected in Week 7 I think. But I have yet to hear the strong counterargument to the change, or even a real clear presentation of all the components of it. So consider me in the “big ear” stage on this issue … listening and learning.

  15. Tried to watch your gig, but the video was restricted on my system. Don’t know why, but I’m sure it was entertaining. I’m a little behind on the course, hopefully I can get got up this weekend. I’ve learned so much already. Thanks!

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