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#1 Secretmapper  Icon User is offline

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On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 12 July 2013 - 08:52 PM

Anyone here taking any MOOCs?

I've taken a MOOC in CS50, and boy was it a great experience. First 6-7 weeks were like complete C and learning everything from *ahem* scratch, and then last few weeks was an instant switch to PHP and web development- after 6 weeks of programming in C, you're expected to pick up PHP (or at least develop something with it), which goes to show how much programming foundation it builds.

You could do anything for your final project: I decided to create an opensource HTML5 RPG.

Anyone have any experience with MOOCs? and/or have anything to say about them?
And if you're like me hoarding certificates in Accredible, let's endorse each other :D

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#2 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is offline

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Re: On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 12 July 2013 - 09:04 PM

They're clearly a disaster in terms of education. Calling them "courses" is a mistake that could only be made by someone who is either trying to sell a product under false pretences or has never actually taken a course - they're actually more like a spoken textbook with a submission system for the example problems. The category mistake that's being made here is a simple one: education is being addressed as if it were a matter of content delivery. Utter fail. The people who learn well from them will turn out to be exactly the set of people who would learn just fine from any sort of documentation, and therefore don't actually need them, and the people who actually need or can benefit from actual education will find that the opportunities for same are fading rapidly.
Gresham's Law suggests that they will flourish at least long enough to do major damage to the educational system in the US and elsewhere, where they don't actually prevent the development of same.

But nobody ever suggested that mankind was anything but idiotic in the aggregate.

For people who have already acquired the foundations to understand the material and just want a quick and easy overview of a topic, however, they're fine. We can amuse ourselves fiddling while Academe burns merrily.

I myself am sawing away at Linear Algebra at the moment, and having a grand old time watching the digital divide play out in the forums.

This post has been edited by jon.kiparsky: 12 July 2013 - 09:06 PM

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#3 macosxnerd101  Icon User is offline

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Re: On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 12 July 2013 - 09:06 PM

I'm working through a Coursera course on Social and Economic Networks. It's been put on hold for a while since I've got some other stuff going on that's more impactful in the immediate future.

I've garnered some information from the course. It's not as effective as if I was actually taking the class. I've found the problem sets not to be as high quality in comparison to homework given in a conventional class. At the end of the day though, it's enough to get me conversant on the topics so I can research more if I find myself needing to do so.

Quote

For people who have already acquired the foundations to understand the material and just want a quick and easy overview of a topic, however, they're fine. We can amuse ourselves fiddling while Academe burns merrily.

Great minds think alike!

Quote

I myself am sawing away at Linear Algebra at the moment, and having a grand old time watching the digital divide play out in the forums.

Might I suggest some good tutorials. ;)
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#4 Secretmapper  Icon User is offline

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Re: On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 12 July 2013 - 09:29 PM

While I did enjoy the course wholeheartedly, I have to say I agree with you on most points. They really are sometimes only useful and great for reviewing material.

You guys however, seem to be taking courses from coursera. I have taken some courses from there, but have not completed any. I take most of my courses from edX, and if I may suggest, try some from them. Coursera courses, I feel, are boring, uninspired material from a classroom shoehorned to fit in an online setting->Result: I completed (and learned) nothing from them.

edX courses I think (or would like to believe) however, are of higher quality. For example, CS50, the course I talk about up top, really feels like a course designed for an online audience (and if IIRC, the instructor follows a pedagogy for high amount of audience -> the on-campus course has thousands of students already so it makes sense. Also it has been offered as an online course for accreditation to begin with long before MOOCs begun)

Now there are still equally bad courses in edX, and there might be good courses in coursera. I guess it's just a matter of finding the good ones.

I still think you're right though, great MOOCs are exceptions, not the rule.

EDIT: Also, this and this exactly:

Quote

The people who learn well from them will turn out to be exactly the set of people who would learn just fine from any sort of documentation, and therefore don't actually need them

This post has been edited by Secretmapper: 12 July 2013 - 09:38 PM

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#5 macosxnerd101  Icon User is offline

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Re: On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 12 July 2013 - 09:43 PM

I looked through some of the edX courses. Most of them are very introductory, at least in the areas of math, econ, and CS (which is where I'd take a course, more likely than not). The ones that aren't introductory are very niche.

Correct me if I'm wrong- but didn't you enter the CS50 course with programming experience already? So it's not like you were learning from the ground up, but you had a base knowledge on which to build. There is a big difference between starting from scratch and building on existing knowledge.

Honestly, I don't find the Coursera course I'm taking all that challenging, since it's predominantly graph theory, game theory, and statistics. I'm a graph theorist with some statistics and microeconomics. It builds quite nicely and provides some insights. It's nothing groundbreaking for me, though; and it's not a foundation, but just some toppings. Again- it's not bad, it just serves a niche purpose.
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#6 Secretmapper  Icon User is offline

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Re: On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 12 July 2013 - 09:57 PM

Yup, that's the only real problem with these, they are very introductory. Which is sad btw.

I did have programming experience before taking the course, but nothing learned formally (I've been a freelancer for a few years, but only now am I going to college). Perhaps to those who have learned it formally it would have been of little to no use, but it was particularly interesting to know things like BIG(O), Stack vs Heap, etc, etc. Basically basic things a computer scientist would know but someone without a formal background might miss. Especially that stack vs heap thing since I mostly work with high-level languages :D/>/>/>

Also, what was particularly interesting with this course was there were two kinds of Problem Sets: Standard Problem Sets AND Hacker Problem Sets. Standard Psets were good, but the Hacker Psets (though maybe a bit easy to someone very strong) were still project euler-like, and were quite fun to solve, I expect they can prove quite fun for those who have prior experience.

With regards to those who have no programming experience, I can't say from first-hand experience, but I have seen a few people in the forums who started with no programming experience. I can say for what it's worth, the results were pretty good. At the very least they can pass FizzBuzz. I would say that's too easy for them though :)/>/> That's like Pset 0!

This post has been edited by Secretmapper: 12 July 2013 - 10:00 PM

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#7 ConciselyVerbose  Icon User is offline

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Re: On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 13 July 2013 - 02:07 AM

I think acting like they replace actual classes is misleading, but having the information more available and accessible is a good thing in my mind. My first real experience with programming was through a Stanford open course, and while there are most certainly other places to learn, that did a great job for me. I do generally stick to classes by respected institutions, wherever held, but I have learned a fair bit through online classes that would have been difficult to accumulate on my own.
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#8 blackcompe  Icon User is offline

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Re: On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 13 July 2013 - 09:42 AM

Overall, I'm satisfied with MOOCs. We quickly went from top education costing tens of thousands of dollars and only available to a select few, to having it virtually at your finger tips. I think that's revolutionary.

I too agree that some of the courses give a false sense of achievement. The platform itself allows students to be lazy in certain situations, but I've taken classes that were well-designed and were pretty tough. EdX circuits and graphics were very unforgiving. They were so well-designed that you couldn't have passed without a good amount of effort put into studying. And, I mean reading dry college text books. However, at times I found myself scouring the forums for help and trying any old answer just to pass the test. Obviously, that would never fly in a real course, but as long as you put in some kind of effort and learned something, I don't see how you could complain.

Instructors that are new to platform are still adjusting and will eventually figure out what and what not to do. A lot of the newer classes on Coursera are still letting students take quizzes an unlimited number of times. Clearly, setting a limit is much more effective, since it'll force student to do it right the first time, which requires striving to understand what they're learning and staying abreast of the lecture material. The counter-argument is that the purpose of the MOOC is to facilitate learning, and not testing the student for a grade.

For me the best thing about MOOCs is the vast subject material. I just saw a class on design patterns. It's rare to find an undergraduate course on that, which then leaves two options: (1) read a dry boring book and try to teach yourself or (2) get the knowledge from real-world experience. Both are hard. Learning from others in the context of good practical examples is so much easier and valuable than book reading.

There are probably courses (not quite MOOCs - Udemy for instance) on every popular IDE now. IDE's are beasts within themselves, and being able to utilize development tools effectively is often times more important than knowing the CS stuff. Most CS programs have one or two introductory programming courses with lab, where you may use an IDE, and then that's it. To be able to quickly sign up for an online course for free that shows you how to use an IDE effectively is unbelievable. The difference with a MOOC is that you don't have to go around searching YouTube getting bits and pieces. Yes, YouTube has tutorials on, for instance, using the Eclipse debugger, but what if the student doesn't know what a debugger is. It's the job of the instructor to introduce the debugger.

MOOCs are offering all types of subject material: humanities, sciences, literature, electronics, nuclear physics, parenting, healthcare, basketweaving ... whatever. The Internet primarily only ever offered good tutorials and learning resources for subjects in computing. Now people with computing skills can broaden their knowledge to be able to it apply it to other things they're interested in. Before you had to go get a master's degree in whatever else you wanted to seriously learn outside of computing. Yes, getting that degree is probably still more effective than learning from MOOCs, but if you're dedicated enough, I don't see why you can't make real progress towards educating yourself in other subject areas solely through MOOCs.

Another great thing about MOOCs is the forums! You can learn soooo much in the forums, and you can make connections with people who are interested in the same things as yourself. Students are arranging meet-ups and actually getting together in person!

I'm in Startup Engineering on Coursera now and I love it! All I read is the lectures notes. The assignments are relatively simple for me because I been programming for a while now, but I'm still learning new things. I've learned some Linux system administration stuff, a little more on the software development process, how to use cloud services, and it's only been a few weeks.

You get what you put in.
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#9 ConciselyVerbose  Icon User is offline

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Re: On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 13 July 2013 - 10:03 AM

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The platform itself allows students to be lazy in certain situations


So do real classes.
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#10 blackcompe  Icon User is offline

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Re: On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 13 July 2013 - 10:41 AM

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So do real classes.


Certainly not in the way of allowing a student to go the forums and find the answer to a quiz. Not in the way of allowing to submit a quiz multiple times, trying different answers just so they can get a perfect score. In real classes, you often don't the luxury of asking a question and having thousands of people responding to it.
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#11 ConciselyVerbose  Icon User is offline

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Re: On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 13 July 2013 - 11:12 AM

No, but you can still be pretty damn lazy and get away with it.
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#12 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is offline

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Re: On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 13 July 2013 - 11:21 AM

So the courses are what they are - some people seem to do okay in them, some don't. Whatever, we could go back and forth on this all day without generating much light. What concerns me, and what seems to be off-limits for a lot of people, is the clear intent of Coursera to replace actual classes with this youube-plus-surveymonkey approach. (and really, that's more or less what we're talking about here). And they're not talking about "supplementing" or otherwise extending existing options, they want this to be the way we take classes.
And they're getting it, too. I know that Odersky's Scala course and Boneh's crypto are no longer taught at their institutions: if you want to take them, you watch the videos and do the tests and you're done.

This is what I meant in inbnvoking Gresham's Law: bad money drives out the good. To my mind, the textMOOC is at best a weak substitute for a class. It doesn't offer an interaction with a professor, the professor has no idea what the students are learning (if anything), there is no real-time feedback, so it's just a recitation. (compare this to a classroom scenario, where a student can raise an issue, and it is important to have a knowledgeable person at the front of the room - in a MOOC, there is no particular reason for the professor to even deliver the material!)

So if this becomes the default, actual classroom learning becomes at best the province of the elites who can afford to pay a premium for this weird specialty service. (let's not think that costs of tuition will go down at institutions that adopt this model - you'll pay the same for the privilege of accreditation as you're paying now, that's how markets work). This seems to me a foolish move, and it's one we're making right now. I'd be willing to bet that there will be state colleges and universities that will essentially eliminate live courseroom instruction - what will this look like?

I mean, it's all well and good to look at the shiny distraction of free "classes", but let's look around the corner a little. What does education look like in five years under this model?

This post has been edited by jon.kiparsky: 13 July 2013 - 11:27 AM

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#13 macosxnerd101  Icon User is offline

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Re: On the Topic of MOOCs

Posted 13 July 2013 - 11:25 AM

I tend to agree with jon.kiparsky on this point. There is a lot to be said as well for going to a professor's office hours and getting some individualized attention, or having the professor grade your work or exams and provide feedback to your learning.

As with anything, there are good online courses and horribly executed in-person classes. I think given the same professor, same lectures, and same assignments, the delivery will be better in a classroom setting for a couple reasons. The first is the professor interaction, and the second is the student interaction. Working on homework together is where a lot of the learning occurs. MOOCs take a lot of this away.
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