Two MOOCs: Pros and Cons

I have now completed two MOOCs: An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching, and R Programming. I found the format far more conducive for a programming class than for learning about teaching practices.

Maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the online format was a challenge for a teaching in STEM course. There were many lecture videos, and although they contained some good information, they often fell into the trap of “do as I say, not as I do.” In other words, there would be a talking head showing lecture slides to discuss the need for peer-interactions and feedback, or classroom engagement.  I hoped to get more out of the homework assignments than the lectures/quizzes, but these were also only vaguely useful since the peer-feedback came from people in various STEM fields. While diverse backgrounds are useful for debate about teaching practices, it made providing (and receiving) useful feedback very challenging. I was asked to give feedback on a physics lesson plan, and while I could judge certain aspects of the design in general, as a microbiologist I couldn’t really speak to the effectiveness of the plan in teaching the subject.

The R programming course was harder than I anticipated since I didn’t realize there had been a recommended prerequisite intro class. The video lectures had variable usefulness, but the homework assignments were quite challenging and pushed me to improve my R coding skills. The online format was well suited to this type of class because the subject doesn’t rely heavily on peer-to-peer interactions. Since everyone was working on the same assignments the peer-feedback format worked well.

With these two MOOCs under my belt, I’m inclined to take more computer science oriented courses in this format, but I’ll continue to pursue teaching development in face-to-face workshops and classes. My skepticism of this format working well for teaching pedagogy was validated in this regard, but I would be curious to hear if you have had positive online learning experiences with teaching in STEM.

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