Lifelong Learning: MOOC’s vs Liberal Arts Colleges

In a desire to both learn and experiment, I’ve headed back to the classroom. One of those classrooms is located on the campus of Hendrix College. The other classrooms reside on servers and I access the content through my computer. The other classrooms are ventures by Udacity and Coursera.

At Hendrix College, I’m taking Foundations of Computer Science and we are learning how to program in Python 3.x. The class meets twice a week for 50 minutes and we have two 50 minute labs. We’re well into the semester and class is engaging, fun, and interactive.

Through Udacity, I’m taking Introduction to Computer Science. The class is taught by David Evans from the University of Virginia. Class is under way. Sergey Brin provided a lecture/soundbite on search engines. The other lectures have been engaging, but I haven’t delved too far into them.

Turning to Coursera, I’m enrolled in An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python and Human-Computer Interaction through their website. The first course is taught by faculty from Rice, while the second course is taught by Scott Klemmer of Stanford. These classes have yet to start.

Excluding Human-Computer Interaction, the courses all use Python to introduce programming and computer science. Redundant? Sure, but what better way to compare learning?

Already, I’ve realized how valuable access to a professor is. What’s a pre-recorded lecture worth versus being able to interact with a subject specialist? Also, how does learning change when one can listen to other students questions? I’m trying not to be too biased, but I realize my preference is for a traditional course. And yes, I’ve taken distance and split distance courses through the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, so I know what traditional distance learning looks like.

One question that really interests me is how can MOOC’s support traditional classroom learning? A lecture is a point of view. Perhaps, students can supplement or expand their learning by hearing another professor discuss a similar topic as one covered in class.

Stay tuned and follow along. If you’re in one of the courses, feel free to share your experiences here or send me an email.

Tim Lepczyk

Writer, Technologist, and Librarian.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I’m looking forward to seeing how you get on. I’ve been doing something similar – I’ve taken Coursera’s CS101 and HCI courses, am currently taking Udacity’s CS101, and should be starting on the HarvardX CS50x course in the middle of October. I also did a little of MIT OCW’s 6.00 intro to computer science / Python course early in the year, before all these big MOOCs kicked off.

    Not sure if this would be considered a ‘spoiler’, but I’ve written up a review of my experience on the HCI course I really enjoyed the HCI course – it was a lot of work, but I certainly learned a lot.

    I’m not sure if you’ve come across ‘connectivist’ MOOCs before. They operate quite differently to courses offered by udacity and coursera. In terms of online learning, taking my first connectivist MOOC made a real difference to how my outlook. Learning through networks and discussion and content/knowledge creation is fantastic, and I’m still feeling the effects of the one-week MOOCMOOC course I took –

    I’ve attempted to compile an overview of these connectivist MOOCs –

    In terms of looking at online education, you might be interested in checking out the Mechanical MOOC – It’s also an introduction to Python, but seems to be using a sort of automated / community-led model. I don’t expect to have time to participate, but I’m interested to see how it turns out. Starts on 15 October.

    1. Tim

      Thanks for the response, Martin! I’ll check out the links later today. I think creating a networked learning community where one meets online or in person would really change things. Last spring, some former colleagues and I planned to take a course on named entity recognition and meet once a week to discuss the material and work on projects together. The course ended up being cancelled, but we were all excited by this method.

      I think MOOC’s have a strong appeal to those who cannot access training or education due to time and/or money.

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