A “ M.O.O.C.” called “ Mod.Po.”

Earlier in the year we posted a blog about a somewhat newish trend in education that seemed to be gathering some traction – at least in the media headlines (see previous blog here –  http://education.waikato.ac.nz/foetech/2012/02/28/an-outsider-calls-for-a-teaching-revolution/).  My, how things have changed in just a short 8 months. Now it seems everywhere you turn its MOOC this and MOOC that but has anyone participated in a MOOC or talked to someone that has? What are they all about? What are they like? Can you actually learn anything in a class with a 100,000 students it?  We are quite excited to post this guest blog from Kate Hill who decided to give it a go and see what all the fuss was about for herself. So, without any further ado …..

A     “ M.O.O.C.”    called     “ Mod.Po.”

by Kate Hill

Al Filreis, much published Kelly Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, has been teaching contemporary poetry for over 28 years.  His enthusiasm is boundless, his subject knowledge prodigious and the encouraging way in which he interacts with his students is a pleasure to observe.  I’m one of those students in the biggest class Al has ever taught.  There are 30,800 of us from over 100 countries and currently we’re all in week 7 of a 10-week MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called ModPo (Modern American Poetry).  All resources are available online, not a drop of petrol is needed to attend the online seminars/ forums and the course fees come in at a very attractive $0.00.

Right now as Week 7 begins we’re about to embark on an analysis of the NY School of poets – Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch and friends.  Videod seminars with Al and Students/Teaching Assistants (TAs) Anna, Dave, Max, Amarice, Molly, Ali, Emily and Kristen are held in the Kelly Writers’ House on the Penn campus.  After watching these any thoughts, questions, challenges and links can all be posted on the various forums where Al and the TAs pop up with amazing frequency to add direction or comment to the, often very erudite and occasionally passionate, discussion threads.

My course is one of over 200 being offered by Coursera, the online higher education venture which started up in April 2012.  Since then 1.35 million students have enrolled and 33 partner universities are now offering free courses under this platform.  Princeton, Stanford, Melbourne, Edinborough, Harvard et al, have all  “joined the club”.

According to NY Times writer Tamar Lewin, Ohio State University is one of the new Coursera partners.  University President E. Gordon Gee is quoted as saying, “You’re known by your partners, and this is the College of Cardinals. It’s some of the best universities in the country.”

Ohio State is about to offer 2 courses from its College of Pharmacy and Mr Gee has some concerns about giving away content with no revenue stream in sight.

“That does keep me up at night,” he said.  “We’re doing this in the hope and expectation that we’ll be able to build a financial model, and I don’t know what it is but we can’t be too far behind in an area that’s growing and changing as fast as this one”.

A Coursera success story recently appeared on National Public Radio in the US concerning a 22 year old computer science student, Askhat Murzabayev from Kazahkstan.  His very small local university did not offer any Artificial Intelligence classes so he enrolled for free in Stanford’s Machine Learning class on Coursera.  Having gained his Certificate of Completion he then used it to support his job applications and now works for Twitter in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty.

Up to now most MOOCS have offered mainly math, computer science and engineering courses but recently diversification has occurred with options such as World History, Music and Animal Behaviour.  For some Professors the opportunity to teach huge numbers of students all at one time is intoxicating.  Coursera co founder Andrew Ng recently taught a class online that had 100,000 students.  To reach that number of students he would have had to teach his normal Stanford class for 250 years.

My biggest difficulty over the last 7 weeks has been to stop “spreading the word”.  ModPo seems to crop up in all my conversations.  Yes, I’ve done online learning before but never like this, never with such a huge international class of fellow students, never of such high quality and certainly never for FREE.  Initially the course content was the reason I enrolled, but now I’m also fascinated by the process, the underpinning pedagogy and the very generous way in which such large numbers of students respond to each other, especially within the assessment framework.

Assessment involves 10 “quizzes”, 4 x 500 word essay style assignments plus the assessment of essays from fellow students according to marking rubrics.  There have been a few glitches with this process – not easy to manage in a subject as wide open as poetry – but no doubt these problems will be resolved with each course occurrence.  After the final week all students who complete the assessment requirements will receive a Certificate of Completion from Penn.

So where is this all heading?   There is a lot of MOOC mania around and this concept is certainly not a cure all.  However, the online educational environment is growing fast.  EdX, Udacity, ITunesU, OER, all offer frameworks similar to Coursera so in the short term those with an appetite for learning can feast away without  $$$$$ anxiety.  My view is that right now all Coursera students are participating in a huge experiment.  Once courses and methods have been refined fees will be charged – maybe initially for assessment and perhaps for higher level content.

Long term I’m uncertain just how MOOCs will develop but I do worry about the enormous debt burden being carried by 21st century graduates within our existing educational systems.   We are in need of a new model and maybe MOOCs will prove to be a catalyst for change.



Lewin, T. (2012, September 19). Coursera Adds 17 Partner Universities, Including Brown and Columbia. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/education/coursera-adds-more-ivy-league-partner-universities.html

Online Education Grows Up, And For Now, It’s Free : NPR. (n.d.).NPR.org. Retrieved October 26, 2012, from http://www.npr.org/2012/09/30/162053927/online-education-grows-up-and-for-now-its-free


Did you like this? Share it:

Leave a Reply