Online Learning and the Tyranny of the Database

A recent Techcrunch article concerning MOOCs suggested that a majority of people teaching online felt their online course shouldn’t count for college credit. And yet, a refrain I have heard several times recently is that online courses are actually more difficult than the face-to-face course, which got me thinking about what exactly is meant by ‘difficult’. And I realized that one of the things online courses do much better than face to face courses is generate data.

In most online course systems, in order to track progress in the course, and in fact just to make the course operate at all, a great deal of data is tracked. I can look in our system and know when a user logged in, when they clicked a link, when and how they answer questions, what material they looked at for how long, etc. This is not some sort of spyware – it’s just how the system works. But for many people, this data equates to the idea that ‘time spent in system’ is equal to ‘time spent learning’. It is not uncommon for someone to ask for this complete range of data to verify that a course was ‘done right’.



Cultivating Prosumers: A Dispatch from Intro to DH

We are now three weeks into our intro to dh course! I appreciated this comment from my first blog post introducing the series:

“This is pretty exciting – I look forward to seeing how the course moves forward. I’m also very interested to hear what the students expect from the course, and how that lines up with what we expect them to expect from the course.”

It made me think of the engaging conversations I’ve enjoyed with Carla Martin over the past few months about pedagogy and inclusiveness. One of my major takeaways from those conversations is the idea of building a shared understanding in the classroom collectively, rather than simply relying on students’ previously acquired knowledge, which is something that can marginalize different students for a variety of reasons.


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