Coursera - E-Learning and Digital Cultures by University Of Edinburgh

Maria Karmanova

A 25-years old post-graduate student from Saint-Petersburg, Russia, she is currently working on her dissertation on Philology with a specification in Old Russian literature. She takes part in different MOOCs, mostly in humanities to know about other researchers and events . One of the most important principles both in her study and in her work is to maintain the balance in different activities, interests and areas of knowledge.

E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC was organized by The University of Edinburgh, and it had a different structure in comparison with what I see as typical Coursera course.

First, there were no video-lectures. Each week students needed to watch some YouTube videos related to the topic of current week, and read some articles, and then discuss them. Each week there were at least three videos, at least two core articles, and some additional material to watch or read.
Second, all students were encouraged to communicate via Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, not via the Coursera forums (The course was held before some significant improvements were made at Coursera forums, so this decision had some sense). There was a news-feed with tag #edcmooc for all publications, and people could add their blogs and feeds to it.
Third, there were no Quizzes or other kinds of homework during the course. The final assignment was to create a "digital artifact" (e.g. video, picture or presentation) related to some of discussed topics (education, technologies, utopia and dystopia, artificial intelligence).

Such approach to course organization caused some difficulties personally for me and for some other students as well. At the beginning of the course many people felt disoriented. One of the most popular forum topics was called "Where are the professors?" which addressed the point that if there are no video-lectures, it is difficult to understand, what is the position and opinions of the professors. The students were just thrown into the sea of different materials, and many people wrote, that they felt overwhelmed. It was almost like a seminar, not like lecture.

For me personally it was also a question of accessibility: I have slow internet connection with sudden interruptions, so I prefer to download lectures and then watch them offline. This course used many materials that were available only online, not for download, and only as video, not in textual form. And I generally use social networks in very restricted way, so I didn't feel connected to other participants, especially in the beginning (later I started blogging).

But in general, I find my experience of E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC positive: this course forced me to leave my comfort zone – to start blogging and to work with visual materials; it gave some information about useful online-tools. Suggested videos and readings were also interesting. But I think the main weakness of this course was the following: Although the word "Education" stays in first place in the title, the accent was moved to more general questions. The articles related to digital education and MOOCs were usually near the end of the list of materials for current week. Most people discussed videos related to utopian and dystopian views of future, artificial intelligence, digital reality etc. So the course was interesting, and I got lots of new information, but I didn't get what I expected.

And there was one more flaw of this course on my opinion: I like to save some materials on my
PC to re-watch them later or to read again or to watch something I missed during the course.
And in the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC, as I see, there is nearly nothing to store. There are discussions in social networks and in blogs, there are YouTube and Vimeo videos, there are some articles on different web-pages… and I find it difficult to gather this all. The idea to use such flowing content was
interesting, but it has problems too.

Another problem I felt was that it was too short. I think, 4-5 weeks is too few for a MOOC, even for an introductory one. People need time to get into discussion, to make connections at forums, to establish study groups. 4 weeks is not enough for that, and this makes a learning process less productive.

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