Saturday, March 29, 2014

Like clockwork

Will people know what that means, in a few years? "Like clockwork"? The "work" inside a digital timepiece isn't as visible as the delicately moving gears of an old mantel clock.

But there I go, showing my age again.

Smooth operation is one of my two main goals for any course, along with clear and effective pedagogy. In a large class – even 100 students, though that's tiny on the MOOC scale – malfunctioning systems or sloppy course organization can be as obstructive to students as poor instruction. I often teach large classes on campus, and am so persnickety about how they are run that teaching assistants wonder about the deep-seated neuroses I must surely have. Apologies to them, but my aim is that students should be able to focus on subject matter with minimal time spent on course logistics.

With 28,000 students, my persnicketiness comes in very handy. The current run of 2.1X has been so smooth that it's strange to recall the squawking that sometimes drowned out all else in the forum last year. I've become so much better at running MOOCs.

Based on experience from Spring 2013, 2.1X schedules and deadlines were simplified and displayed more prominently, expectations were made clearer and more explicit, work during exam weeks was lightened (no graded exercise sets), and basic instructions were repeated in every possible place. EdX has greatly improved its platform: it rarely crashes, things work as expected, and this year there is more flexibility and ease of operation for instructors and course engineers.

I believe we've now got the structure of 2.1X to a point where it is genuinely feasible to make the logistics work for any future run with barely more than the flip of a switch.

This kind of thing freaks out the people who are worrying about "faculty being replaced" by online courses. I'm not so worried about that. The next post will be about things the machine can't do.


  1. Prof A: Thoroughly enjoyed the course even though I forgot to turn in two homework assignments. The course is very thorough, clear, organized, documented and presented. Enjoyed the variabilityin speaking, the ability to print out slides. ou certainly do a great service to every student young and old in years. I would have been better prepared by taking the practise edX course first. For example, I would have sent this to the course comments if I could have figured out how to sent it today. Looking forward to the next course in April. Thanks for helping so many of us. Online teaching has certainly advanced with the graphix abilities, internet speeds, online grading, etc. compared with 20 years ago when I taught University of Phoenix courses. THANKS

    1. Hello, glad you enjoyed it.

      To post to the forum, go to the forum by clicking on Discussion in the top toolbar. Near the top left of the discussion screen you'll see a blue button that says New Post. Click on that and you'll get a page where you can enter the title and message of your post; if you want to make sure (though you don't have to) that your post falls under a particular heading, the headings are over on the left of the screen for you to choose; this post would have fallen under General. But it'll appear on the forum no matter where you put it. When you've entered your message, click Add Post. Done! Cheers,

      Prof. A.

  2. Hi Professor A--
    Great post. I too show my age. We baby boomers need to stick together. I am currently in grad school and I find that students learn differently now as a result of technology. I think there may be a mixture of good and evil with that. As with everything balance is the key. However, those of us who teach, ( in academia, our children or the next generation of our professions), will simply need to find the path. We need to be able to convey what we understand in a meaningful manner. Someone once said to me "If you hate change you will hate being insignificant even more". Finding significance seems to be the challenge for everyone.

    Thank you for the on line Statistics class. I was an undergrad about 27 years ago and I have say that Statistics basically freaked me out. The Stat2.1x was challenging, (because it is math), but I finished the first module. I am hoping the next one will go as well. Be well.