Saturday, May 18, 2013

Taking a chemistry MOOC - part 1

The massively online open course (MOOC)
I, along with almost 8000 other people, am taking Chris Cramers' MOOC Statistical Molecular Thermodynamics, which is officially starting Monday.  I am curious how a MOOC works in practice So and what Chris chooses to focus on.

Step 1 is to sign up and get a login to the course, which gets you access to the course material.  I signed up in February, but haven't gotten an email yet about the fact that the course material is available.   Good thing I follow Chris on twitter.

So far material for the first 3 weeks are available.  The topic for week 1 is quantization and energy levels.  The material for week 1 consists of 8 video lectures (between 8 and 16 minutes each) with corresponding powerpoint slides, and a homework assignment with 10 multiple choice questions.  Five of the videos have one or more multiple choice questions embedded in them, and you can also download detailed answers to these questions.

"The videos are the core content of this course."  The idea, according to the website, it is "that you download the homework pdfs and familiarize yourself with the questions early on. As you view the videos, keep the homework problems in front of you so that you can make connections between the lectures, the demonstrations and the problems."

Once you have finished the homework you submit it on the web site.  The deadline for submission for week 1 is May 31st, and the answers become available the next day. Update: when you submit your answers, you are immediately told whether it is right or wrong.  Also, this week, remember not to confuse De with D0 (happened to a friend of mine ...)

There is also a discussion forum, monitored by instructors.

Some thoughts
Chris made the videos, slides and homework problems.  What does Coursera provide?  (1) A website that keeps track of users responses to the homework (and later the final exam) needed for the certificate you get at the end and (2) a way to embed multiple choice questions in a video.

If one is not issuing certificates, I'm not sure Coursera is needed, but this is only a first impression.  Embedding quizzes in videos can be solved by shorter videos that end in a quiz, i.e. watch this video, then answer this question.

From a teachers perspective I think the main practical difference between regular teaching and a MOOC (as exemplified by this course) is that you don't rely on a textbook with regard to reading and assignments (in addition to making all the videos of course).

I'm not sure how I feel about using Powerpoint lectures vs pencasts.  Powerpoint can go a bit fast, but here you can rewind and you get a written record of the lecture through the slides.
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