Massive open online courses (MOOCs) offer the potential for a student learning experience that is collaborative, engaging and global. What is distinctive about the student experience in a massive open online course (MOOC)? What do participants find most challenging about learning in a MOOC, and how has the MOOC experience impacted their learning?

To find out, I asked two students who are a part of the Duke Graduate School Bass Instructional Fellowship Program, for PhD students, led by Dr. Hugh Crumley, Director of the Certificate in College Teaching.  As part of the Bass Online Apprenticeship (OA) fellowship, students enroll in GS 762 Online College Teaching, and participate in an online apprenticeship with the Center for Instructional Technology (CIT), to gain practical experience working with Duke faculty and CIT consultants in online education. One of their course assignments is to experience learning and observe instruction in a massive open online environment, with a class peer, and at the end of the semester reflect and share their MOOC experiences.

 Keri HamiltonKeri Hamilton, a PhD student in Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology, and a Bss OA Fellow, signed up for two MOOCs offered by Coursera: Duke‘s Introduction to Genetics and Evolution, and Human Evolution: Past and Future offered by University of Wisconsin-Madison.  In Genetics and Evolution, Keri participated in Google Hangouts on Air, which she found enhanced her learning:

“Being able to record the hangouts allowed students to view them later, and the hangouts had a Q & A feature that allowed students viewing the interactions to ask questions and participate. I really enjoyed this feature, and thought it was a good way to interact with students in real time on a broad level.”

In terms of what positively impacted the user experience, Keri commented on the forums, which made it enjoyable to interact with many different students, read their opinions, and watch collaboration on problems sets or fundamental ideas.  “It made the class feel more interactive,” she said. Keri sums up her student experience:

“Participating in MOOCs has shown me that you can learn new things even in fields that you didn’t think you could take classes in.  It lets you continue to broaden your horizon past your job and research specialties. Take a MOOC! The worst that can happen is you learn something!”

Bass OA Fellow Giuseppe Prigiotti, a Phd Candidate in Romance Studies (Italian), enrolled in the Coursera Duke PrigiottiMOOC: The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.  For Giuseppe, the MOOC experience was “a unique opportunity to envision the future of college education, constructing effective paths to twist online and on the ground learning.” Giuseppe benefited most from the peer assessments. “Writing these three essays, I was obliged to rethink course materials in light of my personal perspective. I want to question my idea and practice of education. I have had many chances to teach in the last 14 years, but I still like to learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Giuseppe’s commentary captures one of the many benefits of learning in a MOOC –the opportunity to experience innovation and consider the pedagogical possibilities.  Of special note is Giuseppe’s comment on the significance of the Bass OA fellowship, and the important experience it provides:

“The new Bass Online Apprentice Fellowship has been the starting point to discover MOOCs, and that may be beneficial for my future work in academia, as a professor of Italian Culture — hopefully!”

With the added experience of enrolling in a MOOC, reflecting on the experience and how it has impacted their own learning, these Duke Bass OAs (online apprentices) will have a well-rounded set of online teaching skills to add to their fellowship experience, as well as practical, applied experience in the realm of online teaching and learning.

Sophia Stone, Ed.D.

Sophia works with faculty and programs to provide pedagogical and academic technology consulting, training, and project management, for campus-based and online initiatives. In this role, Sophia facilitates the effective implementation of instructional technology and innovation in online learning across academic disciplines, collaborating with campus constituents across the university. Her research interests include instructional design and development, MOOCs, online teaching and learning, faculty development, and emerging instructional technologies.

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