MOOCs and me

The more I read through discussions and critiques of MOOCs, the more I can’t help thinking about the first course I taught. I had absolutely no business teaching that course.  It was – and I was — in retrospect, abysmal. I was 21 years old and had only an undergraduate degree, but the chair of the university was desperate. I won’t tell you what school it was. I was paid $1000 (in 1988). I was assigned to each introduction to sociology, and this is how I taught it:

The course already had a text assigned. I don’t recall which one, but it was a standard introductory sociology text book such as Henslin or Schaeffer produce. It came with redi-made transparency slides, and a test bank. If we had used Power Point at the time, I probably would have had those redi-made lectures as well.  Every week (it was a night course), I read through three or four introductory textbooks, and cribbed lecture notes using the elements of each book that weren’t as thoroughly covered in the book I was using, so as not to repeat what students had read.  I was terrified, so I made lots of (in retrospect) terribly uninteresting points, and then I proceeded to read them, night after night, for fifteen week. There was almost no discussion. Students didn’t ask many questions (there were about fifty students in the class; many of my students were older than I was, some were working class, many were returning college students). For exams, I used the test bank to randomly generate three 100-item multiple choice questions, used a scantron, and then had them machine graded.  That was it.

The thing was, I got pretty good evaluations. People listened, and wrote down what I said. I learned a few more things about sociology once I got to grad school, and many more things about pedagogy, so I realize now how horrible that experience must have been for students (and think I’ve improved as an instructor since then).  Students, including those at the school where I teach, have more empowered to critique their education than they used to be. And that’s a good thing.

I realize there are a lot of differences between what I did, and what MOOCs, or even regular on-line courses, are trying to do. I realize that MOOCs are purportedly taught by dynamic teachers  – the “best” lecturers at their schools – and are at least far more entertaining than I was. But what that early experience taught me is that students, especially those at large state schools, and especially those with very little clout or experience voicing their concerns, will put up with a lot of crap without complaining about the quality, content, or methodology of their learning experiences.

And that worries me as we get further into this “experiment.”

One thought on “MOOCs and me

  1. Steve

    Love the reflection. Sounds a lot like my first semester teaching. It may be that what your students picked up on was that your cared. One of the biggest weaknesses with xMOOCs as they currently exist is the students’ lack of feeling connected with the instructor. I’ve started three MOOCs and that was my experience, no matter how excellent the lecturer was. (If you are interested in different model, try googling “cMOOC”.) In smallish face-to-face or even online courses like we have at UMW, it’s almost a default to establish connections with students.


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