Sunday, May 26, 2013

Taking a chemistry MOOC - part 2

Just submitted the homework problems for week 2 (non-ideal gasses, virial coefficients, intermolecular interactions) in +Chris Cramer's online Statistical Molecular Thermodynamics course.

Just like for week 1, I noticed that I do the exact same thing that I observe in my students.  I start with problem 1 and then go hunting for the equation or plot I need, and repeat.  Assigning questions that cover all the key concepts is therefore important.  Doing a brilliant lecture on a topic is mostly wasted unless followed by at least one homework question.  Also, asking questions that checks understanding of concepts rather than equations is important (and Chris does this).  Finally, I was happy to see a few questions that touched on last weeks material, which allowed me to brush up on that as well.

One thing I noticed in myself is that when I get a question wrong on the homework (this is a purely hypothetical scenario of course), I would dearly love to be presented with a similar problem and given a chance to redeem myself, even if it didn't "count" for anything.  There's a teachable moment going lost here.

After I started this course I came across a blogpost entitled "Is a MOOC a Textbook or a Course?" and further internet-digging let me to the phrase the "MOOC is the new textbook" and I really think that is true.  As I have argued before I think modern textbooks have become horribly bloated and overpriced compromises written with the instructor, and not the student, in mind.  In this course the textbook is replaced with a set of (free!) Powerpoint slides and corresponding lectures. Much more concentrated and to-the-point material in a much more digestible form.

People who are contemplating writing a new textbook should seriously consider making a MOOC instead: make some Powerpoint slides, use them to make some video lectures, write some multiple choice problems, and put everything up on a website.  All the tools you need are freely available: Google docs, Screencast-o-matic, Youtube, and Google Docs or

Furthermore, if you are a teacher, you should seriously consider writing your own textbook MOOC for your course.  My guess is you're already halfway done.

And remember, the first O in MOOC stands for open.

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