I was searching the Coursera catalog and found a music appreciation course that intrigued me. So naturally I had to check it out. This is a report of what the experience has been like.
Before I get into the nitty gritty, I would say that I applaud the course author for taking a chance on this experiment. A lot of things went well, but there’s always room for improvement. And the problems do point out critical issues of the MOOC model.
Video Plus & Minus
In this course, the content was primarily delivered through a series of video lectures, about 20 minutes each. The videos were delivered by both the main instructor (well done) and some TAs (not quite as well done).
The instructor videos were great because she is a very effective lecturer, a skill she probably honed based on years of teaching the same course. The video also had good audio (good mike), good lighting and replicated the main bullet points on the background. This was great for multitasking (and I suspect many MOOC students will multitask, unless there is a compelling reason not to).
The TAs were were not as lucky. Unlike the instructor, they were shot as an informal panel with one mike and regular room lighting. As you might guess the audio suffered and I tuned them out (sorry gang). With video becoming cheaper, I believe the difference in quality is an issue we need to consider. We don’t want a shoot like this to become the next cheesy educational cliche like PowerPoint.
In a music course, you expect to hear music clips, but copyright makes it very difficult to include recordings of modern commercial music in a MOOC. Few corporate owners would want them in a course that literally anyone in the world can view for free. Nor can a MOOC use the TEACH Act because it’s not associated with a course offering from an accredited non-profit.
So we’re left with links to YouTube which would be OK except that they were all embedded in the video and unclickable (sigh). More direct links please. It would also allow is to listen to the clips before watching the video
Unlike other OER and MOOC experiences I’ve been in, there is some structure and assessment built in. Each week includes a discussion assignment and students were participating (at least in week 1).
The videos also included self-check quizzes, but I found them odd from an ID perspective. The course focuses a lot on the sociology of music performance, but many of the quiz question were very low-level nit picky ones focusing on dates and small details that were easy to miss. I’m a date person, but even I had to wonder why it mattered.
It is hard to build self-check assessments that are high level, but since the objectives are so high level to begin with, I wonder why it’s worth bothering, especially when there are discussion boards in the course already.
I think one of the great challenges of the MOOC will be the diverse student population. In this case, I represent the lackidaisical student who came in 4 weeks, was not expecting a quiz and is not sure I have time for all those discussion board assignments.
Of course this course is free so it’s not like I will lose any money if I goof off. There’s also no real grade. Potentially I could earn a certificate, but I am not sure what it would mean if I needed to convince anyone I had learned the subject. The upshot is that I am not driven by any extrinsic motivation, only intrinsic factors which are a little flighty right before the semester begins.
A lot of us may be at this point, but it does disrupt activities. I am not sure anyone did the Week 1 peer review. And since I came in late, I was locked out. Oh well.
I also noticed that there was a confusion and a little resentment over the themes the instructor selected. I think the sociological approach makes sense and is interesting, but it’s not just a carefree musical appreciation course. But I think a lot of people were looking for that and the more academic musicological content we are getting.
I’m Actually Satisfied
Although I’ve pointed out some technical issues, I have to say that I am satisfied overall. One of the great things about the MOOC is that I get out of it what I want to. If I want to participate in discussion, I can, but if I miss a week I won’t suffer. I could also skip topics, or just listen to the clips, or, if I really hated it, leave without penalty.
On the flip side, I don’t think I am getting anywhere near as rigorous an education as I would be in her live course at her home university. If I were serious about learning this as a profession, this would definitely not be enough. BUT it does give me good exposure to what I might really need to learn in depth.