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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Course within a course

Because it's time I did something new, because I am/was worried that my programming "skills" from the late 90s need updating. Because...
I finally did it. I'm finally using Coursera! I had worried about the video format (my internet plan allows only a few gigabytes of data monthly, so I don't use a lot of video online; then also the speeds could be frustrating, in the tens of kB/sec often, but on good days in the hundreds.)

The thing to do is to start anyway, and I have started, and I am impressed with Coursera so far.

The impetus for this experiment with online learning was my sizable teaching load.  I have some large classes with about 100 students and had to split them into two or three groups to get any chance of doing a good job.  For now, it's not understood in my country that you can teach a course in sections, so if there are 500 1st year students who need to take Physics, you fit them in an auditorium for Physics 101, you should by no means create 5 or 10 groups of Physics 101.  They say it's because of cost, but I think it's because of inertia/habit. 
Doll within a doll: Matryoshka dolls

Anyhow, I needed to get more time away from stressful, low-yield teaching tasks that don't scale well, and still get the students to learn more through fun, interactive methods. So I recommended two Coursera courses as a required part of my "Internet and Web Applications Technology" course this semester. They are: "Internet History, Technology, and Security" which is shaping up to be really exciting, and "Introduction to Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists" which I hope will take the perceived dryness out of programming and be cool enough to get the whole class programming.

Because there is a Certificate of sorts from Coursera for doing the work to a reasonable level, I can give course credit for it: about 30% of course credit for taking these two easy courses.

Using the MOOCs is an amazing teaching solution for many reasons.
First, Charles Severance and team know a bit more internet history than I do, so why not let them do the job?
Second, it's not so easy to cheat/copy in these courses, compared with homework I assign. I mean, it takes almost as much effort to copy as to do the work. And anyhow, they will experience significant pushback against their attempts to plagiarize.  Note, my kids are not bad people, it's just that copying seems to be part of national culture.
Third, I can spend class time doing other things (including taking my own online courses and theirs)
Fourth, they can interact with a global classroom; ask and answer questions, assure themselves that they're learning at a world standard, etc.
It costs a bit to get internet, but hey, if I can afford it, so can they; they can definitely watch in groups to cut the cost.

Besides Coursera, I've also used Khan Academy, with good results. At my present school, most of my engineering students somehow arrive in the third year with poor basic math skills. So I start off each course by assigning a massive precalculus/calculus assignment (functions, trigonometry, complex numbers, derivatives) in Khan.  I would like to assign integral calculus as well, but it seems the problem sets stop at derivatives for now.

One good thing about Khan is that it's very hard to cheat with the randomized questions, so they find they might as well do the work.  I think Coursera might have randomized questions too - not sure - but they should consider that.    Also, the coach/instructor can monitor all their work in the backend of the site and - yippee - assign course credit, since for many students, course credit is the main thing that would cause them to do the work.
Whatever happened to just learning for fun? ? 

It's a busy month, but I'll be back later with more analyses of games, and more on prime numbers.  

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