I recently participated in a 6 week MOOC called “Creating an Effective Writer: Tools of the Trade”, by Mt. San Jacinto College on Coursera.org. I had been curious about MOOCs and what kind of quality they could offer with so many students attending. And I thought it wouldn’t hurt to work on my basic writing skills. I was surprised at the quality of this course; the staff at Mt. San Jacinto had put a lot of effort into it. They also enlisted the help of “community TAs” to monitor the forums and answer student questions. The writing assignments were peer-reviewed by other students taking the course, with five writing assignments in total. As a student I had to review five other student’s work for each assignment. I’m not sure how many students started and how many completed the course. The instructors did reveal that over 1700 people completed assignment 5. Everyone who completed the course received a statement of accomplishment. For a fee Coursera will also verify student identities and sell certificates upon course completion.
You might ask why an institution would spend so much time and effort on free courses.
Let’s consider Mt. San Jacinto College. If I were living overseas and investigating institutions for myself or a family member to attend, this college would be high on my list. Why? Well the course was very well prepared, the video lectures well done, and the written content very well laid out. The instructors came across as knowledgeable and amicable in the videos, and you got the feeling that they cared about their students. The course started with some introductory videos that explained how distance education students could do well. These included shots of their campus, with some of their own students giving their personal advice on online courses. Also the community TAs were monitoring the forums and did a good job of responding to questions; the students were not left to fend for themselves. The experience left me with a good vibe about Mt San Jacinto, a sense that this was an institution that provided a safe learning environment, with caring instructors and friendly students. They were very sensitive to learners whose first language was not English, and students were encouraged to write about the places where they lived.
Perhaps you see where I’m going with this. What a great marketing tool for the college! Experience a bit of their teaching for free, get a sense of what their instructors and campus are like, without having to incur the expenses of travelling.
There are a variety of negative comments out there regarding MOOCs if you search for them. I have come to this conclusion: don’t underestimate the power of a MOOC!