A MOOC more Open than Massive

I’ve just completed a MOOC on programming with Python called “Python for Informatics.” It was created and taught by Dr. Chuck (Charles Severance), on a platform that he built.

This was the second course I’d taken with Dr. Chuck: I’d also taken his Coursera class, “Internet History, Technology, and Security.” That was a very interesting and engaging course, and I found it very worthwhile. It was definitely a massively open course! Here are his statistics: ” Over 49,000 students registered for the free class, over 16,000 attended the first week’s lecture and over 4900 students earned a certificate at the end of the 10-week course.” (I was one of the 10% who completed it. 🙂 )

When I heard Dr. Chuck was creating his own platform, I was intrigued. I wanted to see what he was doing and was interested to see how he put it all together. As I am interested in Python and am still quite new to the language, I was keen to take the course and willing to put in the time to complete it.

I joined in a little late, but made the deadline to register for the course. (He has an open enrollment “Python Playground” if you’d like to try it out.) I started, stuck to the assignments and completed all the assignments. (No certificate for this one. Just the satisfaction of completion.)

There were a number of things that impressed me about the course, but two things immediately jumped out at me:

1) The Size (the “M” in MOOC means “Massive“)

Dr. Chuck’s course has around 800 students enrolled. Compare that to the 49,000 in his Coursera course. (Or even compared to the 4,900 who completed it.) While that truly is Massive compared to any face-to-face university course, it certainly does not compare to the size of other online MOOCs. I’m concurrently enrolled – and thoroughly enjoying – MIT’s Learning Creative Learning, which has around 24,000 officially “enrolled” and many others who didn’t register in time but are following along.

Immediately, this got my attention and appealed. In the courses with umpteen-thousand participants, I’ve found it very hard to focus and identify with others. Joining a smaller, less massive, MOOC seemed much more manageable. It certainly allowed for more personal connections – and that really is key in any learning experience. (The MIT course has divided up participants in groups – both assigned and self-managed. That has made it a very valuable experience – I’m in a group with several colleagues and we can collaborate online or in person.)

2) The Licensing (the first “O” in MOOC means “Open“)

Dr. Chuck really believes in openness. He clearly says:

If you are a teacher and interested in reusing my materials, this is my plan:

  • My textbook is Creative Commmons Share Alike
  • All my lecture slides will be Creative Commons
  • All of my recorded videos will be up on YouTube and you can use them any way you like.

In one of his video lectures, he simply states: “I want to make more teachers! Use my stuff!”

Personally, I find this incredibly inspiring. Here’s a busy teacher embarking on a huge undertaking who makes it openly available and remixable. Rather than gain, he is truly focused on expanding people’s knowledge all around the world. This is really what “open” SHOULD mean in a MOOC: not just open for enrollment, but open for reuse.

Yes, I know there are differences of opinion. There are those who say that only some can afford to do this – those universities or professors who are secure in their positions and paychecks. It is possible that more open sharing of this sort will make it difficult for professors & teachers to get hired and for universities to fund R&D. I’m not ready to grapple with this issue at this time …but hope to at another date.

So, thanks to Dr. Chuck I now have some great resources I can use in having my own students learn Python. I also am inspired to put more of my own work out there with open licenses.

I’ve also learned a lot and have a lot to think about – not only related to the Python language, but also to course structure, incentives, pedagogy and more. It really was a fascinating class and I’m so glad I took it.