All in one – my Coursera experience

I’m not going to repeat my extravagant praise for Coursera and online learning here – it’s all in my earlier post (My Brain on Coursera).  This post is my thinking about online learning from an instructional design perspective, and helps me capture my thoughts for my own experiments in online teaching and learning.  I expect to be using online environments for library instruction, and this helps me remember things I would want to do differently while they are fresh in my mind.

I was challenged by a colleague to think about what I would be willing to pay for as a student, and of course we are all thinking about the ways the library might contribute to further developments.

Suggestions about online course web sites

Managing Weekly Progress

  • a straightforward way (one single place) to know what I must do, how long it will take, easily see that I have completed all steps for each week
  • use actual dates rather than the nebulous “week one” and “week two” labels

Improve Overall Course Navigation

  • separate course elements into discrete categories so they are easy to find (how things will work or what I call reference material;  video lectures; notes; review materials for tests; etc)
  • create a printable course calendar that shows the deadlines  for the entire course.
  • enable the course calendar to integrate with all my other Coursera courses if I choose
  • create email or other alerts so that I re-visit the calendar when there are changes

Expand ancillary learning materials and create more learning reinforcement

  • include more exercises such as glossary exercises, practice questions, etc
  • let me see “great examples” of writing about the concepts.  I don’t mean sample assignments, since I think people would tend to just conform and copy what they see, but interesting approaches to either to sub-parts of an assignment or to related assignments given in the past.
  • every unit needs a more extensive, non-graded quiz.  This could be started by allowing students to contribute quiz questions, which might double with their “muddiest point” confusions ( see below).
  • use “muddiest point” questionnaires to direct students to appropriate ancillary materials (perhaps even just “voted up” content from the discussion forums)
  • all math examples or simulations should be separated out for repeated replay at variable speeds, and these should be a priority for development of ancillary materials, esp additional examples of the same concept or different applications of the concept

Improve peer assessments

  • let me grade an assignment specifically created for peer assessment training and see how my score stacks up against a standard (this was mentioned as something Coursera is doing but it wasn’t used in my course)
  • create more of a template for peer graders to apply the rubric
  • allow for a pair conversation as an optional activity.  I agree to view someone’s assignment before we submit, and make suggestions to them.  And they review mine and make suggestions to me.

Raise standards of grading by allowing for revisions

  • to prevent grade inflation which I think may be happening (graders are reluctant to give bad marks), allow anyone who has gotten a very poor grade to do revisions, if there are enough volunteers in the class who got good grades to do a couple extra peer assessments.

Use peer assessments to inform teaching

  • let peer graders fill out something that indicates what they think students don’t get.  Perhaps a formula sentence like “I think many students may still be unclear about _____” and choose from a list, with the option to fill in a word of their choice.

Expand the Community TA concept

  • Allow me to seek a tutor or barter an exchange – I will give feedback on writing quality in exchange for help with a statistical concept. Devise it as a low stakes exchange by limiting it to one week of conversation (in case it doesn’t go well).

Fix the “mosh pit” problem in the discussion forums

  • Let me fill in a profile so that I become assigned to be a member of a group where the discussion board is going to be more at my level of discourse
  • Let me further refine my ability to engage in ongoing discussion with just the people of my choice – no more mosh pits with 20,000 undifferentiated people.
  • Create more structured threads including some short answer Q&A threads that would serve as review and test preparation materials.

Improve tests

  • Students want to feel that the test questions got at the most important concepts, and I can’t say I felt that  about my test experiences.  The preponderance of questions toward some topics seemed odd.
  • When the right answer is not grammatically responsive to the question, I find it really confusing.  When it doesn’t sound the way a normal person would answer the question, I have a hard time understanding it as the right answer.

Include critical thinking about and evaluation of resources

  • Develop at least one unit around the idea that all resources on a topic are not created equal, that we have to evaluate information.  Most faculty have at least one example of poorly presented information or misguided “popularizing” approaches to a topic.
  • Use characterization and summarization exercises (these are hard for students to do)
  • Clearly label all resources for citation – lectures, guest interviews, etc.  These are learning objects and need a bibliographic status!

MOOCs – What I Would Pay For?

1. A proctored exam in order to get a more meaningful certificate.

2. The ability to download the lectures more easily and quickly to a device, so I can engage with the class in offline situations.

3. A way to find and stay connected with other top performers in the class.

4. A simple way to receive access to the optional materials that I want – like checking off a list of what I want and making one payment, and bingo, it all arrives by some timely date.  (Like a coursepack.)

Library Involvement in MOOCs:   What might we do?

Collaborative assistance in developing the “critical thinking and evaluation of information” unit in the courses.

Assistance with discovery, supply, organization (metadata) and management of copyright-free educational materials.

Assistance with the flow of optional materials to students who paid whatever price was determined.  (The coursepack idea).  [We need to get there first – publishers are actively looking for pay-by-the-drink models and the tens of thousands of potential consumers in MOOCs will be on their radars.]

Assistance with the ancillary learning materials, as they are rated more or less useful by students.  This might involve metadata, search optimization, recommendation systems, categorization not only by topic but by level of sophistication and complexity, presentation interfaces.

Assistance with the development and production of interactive textbooks or learning objects by Penn faculty, using technologies aimed at simplicity and sustainability.

And for on-campus students in blended learning…

Library instruction to help students develop information skills within a discipline can be included in blended courses aimed at on-campus Penn undergraduate and graduate students.  We can and should transform the typical instruction we do in this area.

Faculty and librarians have identified many of the skills gaps that cause students to do poorly in school work based on library research, ranging from developing a good research question to comprehensively exploring relevant literature for a lit review.  Exercises to help students overcome those skill gaps can be designed in an online “computational” environment just as well as exercises for mastering course content.  In other words, we can use computational methods to improve on the one-on-one or classroom-based patterns of traditional librarian teaching.  We can incorporate learning science advances such as the ideas around mastery and the zone of proximal development, for example, which would be next to impossible in the kind of face-to-face teaching we normally do with students.

Freed of the huge operational demands of repeated delivery of library instruction, we can devote our knowledge and abilities to the design of very high quality instruction.

–Karrie Peterson


About Karrie Peterson

Head, Liaison, Instruction & Reference Services
This entry was posted in Disruptive Technologies, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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