Tokyo was the meeting spot for a group of Duke Coursera students on Dec. 5, 2012, but the attendees came from many countries – Hong Kong, Singapore, Mexico, the US and, of course, Japan. Some have jobs in banking, business, engineering or health care. Others work for non-profit agencies or think tanks. They are teachers and translators, university students and retirees. What they have in common is a love for learning and experience taking online courses through Coursera and other online course providers.
Some of those taking Think Again: How to Reason and Argue say it will be useful as they teach English to Japanese students, or teach logic and critical thinking in business courses. Others taking the course hope it will help them explain ideas more persuasively when they work with people from other countries or generally enhance their everyday interactions. People taking the Introduction to Astronomy and Introduction to Genetics and Evolution courses have already taken other Coursera courses and are adding these for personal enrichment. Duke’s Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach course was tough, said one student – but it’s good that Duke is offering a mix of introductory and higher level courses.
I was struck by how much time and effort these individuals were putting into their courses, especially considering other demands in their busy lives. They are often watching videos or checking a forum while they wait in line or ride the subway or are in between meetings. No wonder, then, that they would like course materials to be better adapted for mobile devices. “I need to be able to do all the course activities – watch videos, answer quizzes, all of it – on my phone,” said one person. “Keep the videos short!” Those for whom English is a second language appreciate the transcripts that accompany the videos. By watching lectures more than once, and slowing them down at times, they are improving their English while learning the course content.
As we wrapped up our discussion, people exchanged business cards and said they would like to meet again. When asked if they had any final messages for the Duke faculty teaching Coursera courses, their answer was unanimous, “Tell them we said thank you!”
Lynne O'Brien is Director of Academic Technology and Instructional Services for Perkins Library at Duke University. She works with faculty, librarians, campus IT planners and academic technology groups around the country to develop programs to support the use of technology in teaching and research initiatives. Her interests include strategic planning for libraries and for academic technology, open access and open source educational materials and mobile learning.