Massively Open Online Courses, The Blog Post
Instapundit’s been posting occasionally about ‘Massively Open Online Courses’ and other innovations in higher education. I’ve been taking some of those courses.
“Really? Tell us all about it, mysterious stranger!” Well okay.
Udacity has about a dozen on offer right now, mostly for topics in computer programming. I’ve completed one and am working on a second. The first one was an introductory Python-language class. Very well organized: short (around 2-5 minutes) video lectures, often with quizzes embedded, and a series of Q&A or programming problems at the end of each unit. Along the way the instructor applied the various concepts and Python structures to the course-long project – building a search engine. Which is an interesting project.
It was fun. It was so much fun that I started it a second time so I could do the work over in Java (I am a native Java speaker).
Coursera has a larger number and much wider variety of courses to choose from. The only downside to Coursera is that (so far, anyway) you have to take a course when it’s being offered, just like at a traditional in-person school, and you have to complete the work on their schedule if you want to get feedback on the homeworks and quizzes. Udacity is set up to allow students to take the courses at any time and progress at their own pace.
The course I took was on cryptography. It had longer video lectures that averaged around 15 minutes each, and a test at the end of each unit that you could submit several times and keep your best score. Other Coursera courses are different – it depends on the instructor and the school involved.
At first, I was afraid it would be too easy and not worth the time. Nope. Very challenging, almost too challenging, actually. I did finish, though, and received a ‘certificate of completion’ that obviously has no meaning as an actual credential. Yet. Now I’m waiting for a two-part course in computer algorithms to start in August. I hope it’s as good.
I think they’ll need to improve the testing process. They’ll want to ensure that tests are rigorous and cheat-resistant if they’re ever going to offer actual college credit. But in the meantime you can learn stuff from actual college professors at prestigious schools, without having to leave the comfort of your half-finished basement and your nice warm jammies. Party on.
I’m gonna go watch cartoons now.