Monday, October 1, 2012

The MOOC Debate: Does the Online Class Model Really Work?

I'm starting Week #4 of my Coursera Modern Poetry (ModPo) class and I'm learning more in just three weeks compared to college classes I took almost 20 years ago.

But there is a big debate buzzing around the academia water coolers. Does the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) model really work? Are we, as students, getting a watered-down education experience by enrolling in such free online courses offered through Coursera?

According to this article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education, A Pioneer in Online Education Tries MOOC, Ann Kirschner lends a somewhat biased opinion on her MOOC experience  specifically her experience with Coursera.

I find it interesting that she is quick to judge the entire MOOC model based on only one class she took through Coursera. Yes, she has experience in online education but times are-a-changing: add social media and you have a new dynamic when it comes to virtual learning.

She even readily admits that she made a half-hearted attempt and procrastinated throughout the class. As I mentioned to my fellow ModPo classmates, it's all about your personal experience with the class: you can make it good, bad, or indifferent. She was also quick to point out the flaws with the instructors and makes it sound that ALL Coursera classes don't work and will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth: i.e. how professors are not actively involved and that students are rude and leave nasty comments on the forums.

Of course, there are going to be techie glitches and there will always be trolls who purposely fuel the debate fires by posting incendiary comments. She does point out some "positive" benefits of Coursera, but the tone of her article leans to the side of anti-MOOC.

If you check out the comments left by my fellow students, many of us encourage Kirschner to enroll in Filreis' course. Yes, we are learning about modern poetry, but even more important we are creating a real online community - a virtual poetry salon that consists of 30,000 plus people learning poetry. I don't know how Al and our TAs keep up with our forums and Facebook group, but they do and actively post and interact with students. That has been the most impressive part about this class- to have a professor who genuinely cares, is very supportive of students, and leads by example. Al's enthusiasm and passion for poetry are contagious, and I am excited every time I click on "Go to class" on Coursera's site.

According to Kirschner, she is not entirely convinced that MOOC will work and poses that it could just be a passing "silly fad." My question to Kirschner: what's silly about opening up the education experience to people across the globe? The one point that she misses in her article is that the MOOC experience isn't just about the American-based higher education system. MOOC expands learning to the far corners of the world, and I don't find anything silly or bad about expanding people's minds - especially people from diverse backgrounds and cultures who want to learn about Modern American & Contemporary Poetry but would never have the opportunity to experience American poets otherwise.

You only have to peek inside the virtual doors of ModPo and see a shining example, thanks to Al and his TA team,  that MOOC and online learning really works and IS successful.


  1. Hi Therese, just saw your post at ModPo and I totally agree with you! This course is democratic, and Al is a wonderful professor! I also feel I am learning a lot and this time it is something more visceral, original and fun.

    Btw, what a lovely blog name :)

    Thanks a lot for sharing this!

    P.S: This is Flavia from coursera (you read my first essay and provided your feedback on it), I feel really lucky to have colleagues like you out there :)

  2. "Silly fad," just like social media, I guess. ;-)

  3. I don't think it's fair of Ms. Kirschner to offer such a harsh opinion after just one online class. I've taken a pile of online classes, and while some were ho-hum, I did enjoy them, made friends, learned new things. But then I applied myself and participated. Perhaps enthusiastic participation is the key?

  4. Hi Deirdre, Flavia and Karen: Thanks so much for weighing in on the MOOC discussion. I appreciate your support and feedback. I just think that someone who touts that they are a "pioneer in online education" should conduct more thorough research. She should have also interviewed students to get a better hands-on feel for Coursera and MOOC in general.

    Great point, Deirdre. Oh that silly social media! Social media isn't going away anytime soon and neither is online education. That's my opinion.

    PS - Flavia, you did a great job on your essay and I enjoyed reading it! :)

  5. I've taken a few online courses, some paid for, some free. This course does not feel watered down in any way. The input from Al Filreis and the TAs is detailed, thoughtful and they provide direct responses to our own posts, not just "one-response-fits-all".
    Where else could one find so many opportunities for networking as well, including fellow students from all over the world? If Modern & Contemporary American Poetry is any example, I can't wait for the other courses I've signed up to take!
    Carol A. Stephen

  6. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Carol. I don't feel it's watered down either. I am excited to "go to class" every day!

  7. I also read Ms. Kirschner's article in The Chronicle of Higher Education and had pretty much the same reaction. Despite my BA in English Lit, I feel that I've learned more in the three and a half weeks of ModPo than I did in whole semesters of course work. I didn't focus on poetry in college,and tended to avoid it if possible. Now I can make up for what I missed. I am also truly enjoying the entire experience.

  8. After the webcast this morning, it is even more proof that Coursera does and is working, thanks to Al and his leadership and the TAs contributions. It really is a team effort.


Therese Pope, Copywriter/Content Developer & Digital Buzz-icist

Content Writing & Marketing Tips ** Online Buzz Branding

** Digital & Social Media Strategies