So I mentioned the other day that four weeks into my first online course on the Coursera platform I’m having a few doubts. That’s not the whole story though, I’ve been exploring other possible courses, helped signed up my housemate onto a very different course to the one I’m doing and I’ve really changed my mind about just which subjects I’d be interested in studying with them…
First, the doubts.
My course, Greek and Roman Mythology, started on a real high. New translations of works I knew already and some new-to-me texts meant new books landing on my doormat, a new notebook being cracked open and lots of enthusiasm was flowing. There was no reading assigned in Week 1 but the groundwork for the course was being laid down very well and you can see how interesting I was finding it.
So, what’s gone wrong? Mostly it’s the pace and the (surprisingly) old fashioned format of the course.
Later in the course we have just one week to read a mishmash of important chapters from the Roman classic, The Aeneid. In a couple of weeks we’re due to read four Greek plays in a fortnight.
I’m at a bit of loss therefore to explain why we’ve spent nearly a month on the less than 400 pages of The Odyssey. And over 6 hours of video lectures. And 2 hours of Google+ hangouts broadcast on YouTube. And 4 weekly quizzes of 20 questions each parroting back the tutor’s ‘Universal Laws’.
Most of these video lectures have actually been nothing more than summaries of particular chapters of the text rather than any kind of analysis and I feel like I am wading through reams of background when really, I want what the course promised: a discussion on themes in the mythology in these two historic cultures.
I can see that in later weeks we’re going to be cramming other texts in because we’ve been spoon-fed this one so slowly and it’s incredibly frustrating. Each week’s videos are ‘released’ on a given day so I can’t move on ahead or read sideways around topics we’re going to cover. Likewise the forums currently show areas for discussion of Week 1, 2, 3 and 4 but not Week 5 etc. I know we’re going to cover a chunk of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in a later week for example but not the angle we’ll be looking at so I can’t really go digging for background materials and none of us can discuss the texts from later weeks except in general threads. Ironically this slow, micro-managed pace has left me feeling rather disconnected from what should be a very interactive course!
I was going to start a discussion thread on the forum asking for thoughts on pace (to see if I am just wildly out of sync) but noticed that the tutor has jumped in on several threads in the supposedly ‘students only’ area, including one about his website which was a bit awkward. I’m not sure how other courses handle this but his presence in both the ‘course specific’ and ‘students only’ area has made our forums feel falsely jolly/polite/monitored as a result. I suspect that people are disappearing rather than discussing potential issues.
Right now, I’d give my mythology course a 6/10 overall. It’s a great opportunity but I don’t feel it’s the best use of the platform. The teacher’s pet in me is horrified but to hang onto my enthusiasm I’m skipping the remaining weekly quizzes and ignoring the two 500 word essays. Instead I’ll be reading some additional books from the library on mythology, Greek history etc and will be reading all the texts on the course in full even if we’re only allocated certain chapters.
Onto the positive.
Re-assessing this particular course has opened my eyes a bit. I *love* the possibilities of Coursera but I think it’s a very intensive thing for a teaching team to put together such a detailed package of materials, engage with students but not stifle them, get feedback but not force them to jump through excessive hoops. A lot of good humour is needed to pitch it as infotainment to some and introduction to further study for others. Seeing how hard it is to spin so many plates has made me realise that I probably won’t find a 100% fit in this model. I want more to read than the average student, I prefer debate to basic ‘Did-You-Pay-Attention?’ style fact-checking and I don’t like a truly linear course that never has fascinating digressions. ;)
There is still lots to enjoy about access to these tutors, these materials and these conversations and watching a new format work out the details though.
I was already signed up to an English Literature course called The Fiction of Relationships that starts in June but the lack of information on its introduction page has made me wonder just what its reading schedule will be and how interactive it’s likely to be. I still want to gamble on it because I like it’s brief Intro video (just 1:43 but it makes it sounds so good!) but I’ve decided not to miss out on the Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets course that starts the same day and sounds much quirkier in teaching style. Perhaps I’ll end up with an intense summer of non-stop study but more likely I will find the two very different courses ebbing and flowing around me.
I’ve also got three courses on what’s called a ‘watchlist’ to start them later in the year – city design, architecture and English law – and I was so enthusiastic about the syllabus for the city design one that my housemate signed up for it too. :)
Coursera is not perfect but it is still strangely addictive…