This past Monday I began taking my first ever MOOC with the YouTube Creator’s Academy.
What’s a MOOC? Well, its a Massive Online Open Course, of course.
I took an online course at Harvard Extension School a few years back, it wasn’t the best experience for me. A MOOC is different from what we’ve seen with “web-based education” to date because unlike online courses from selected colleges, MOOCs, don’t have a cap on the number of registrants.
In order to better understand a MOOC and how the creative industries can benefit from them I took to my Emerson College colleague, Loudon Sterns, who is also a professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Loudon has been teaching online courses for several years now and recently dove into the grand task of organizing and instructing his first ever Music Production MOOC with Coursera.
@TheeAmyDee: I know you had experience with a Massive Online Open Course, can you tell me why you chose to get involved with one? Seems really daunting to organize.
@LoudonStearns: I have been teaching online for 4 years now through Berkleemusic.com. I found the transition from classroom to online teaching quite easy. At BerkleeMusic I have class sizes of 20 people or less and I have weekly contact with every student through e-mail, assignments, discussions, and realtime audio video chats. With the introduction of MOOCs that has become the traditional online class. It is kind of funny that we now have “traditional online teaching!” Berklee is creating a series of MOOCS in partnership with Coursera.com and asked me to author one. I jumped at the idea because I love a new challenge. It was a chance to experiment with new modes of education and have a wide impact on the world. Also, as a music teacher I think I have a responsibility to try new teaching methods. Hopefully what art educators discover works(and doesn’t) can provide examples for other disciplines.
Personally, I was also very interested on what impact this would have on the teacher. It seems like a huge amount of exposure, which is unusual for a teacher. I was curious how being a public figure like this would impact the rest of my life. As a musician I am comfortable, even excited, by this type of exposure. In the end the personal impact wasn’t as great as I thought it would be, but that was one of my reasons to get involved.
@TheeAmyDee: What were some of the take-aways for you? Any lessons learned? or Advice you would give someone on how to maximize the potential of a MOOC?
: Humans are amazing! Every day, as the MOOC ran, I saw people helping each other, treating each other with respect, and working hard to understand this difficult topic. The community was wonderful and I was blessed to be part of it. The biggest lesson would be the need for research and iterative design. We can’t expect to know how to do this right the first time. Every class I have ever taught got better after 3 or 4 runs as I refined my presentation and what I expect of the students. The same must go for a MOOC. Teaching here is quite different. The teacher must think statistically instead of personally. A single student’s problem is my problem in a traditional classroom, but in a MOOC I must focus on the community. This shift is tough to adjust to, and I think any teacher will need to run the MOOC, adjust it and run it again before the MOOC will really work perfectly. We are running my MOOC again later this summer and I am really interested to see how the course changes with the adjustments we are making to the assignments, grading, scheduling, marketing and class communication. The other big lesson was the importance of a team working together. In a traditional classroom the space belongs to the teacher and the teacher is largely autonomous. In my MOOC experience I realized how important it was to have a strong team working together to make it work well. Because of the large community and the teaching team, it felt that success of a MOOC really revolves around communication. Clear communication between the team members and within the community is essential. Because of the highly international student body the communication must be carefully crafted and I found myself really examining how I communicate with that community in mind.
@TheeAmyDee: As an artist, it seems strange to think about a MOOC. I’ve been concerned with this as I dive into the YouTube Creator’s Academy; do you think that MOOCs have the capability to promote individuality?
: They definitely promote the teacher’s individuality! The thousands of students that finished my course watched 83 videos of me teaching music production, so they got a good dose of Loudon for sure.
I think there are opportunities for students to promote themselves. Within the class forums is a large community of fellow musicians. I am not sure that was the best place to promote their music, but it is a great place to get honest feedback about their music. In looking through the forums I found many great supportive comments and some insightful feedback.
On the whole, I think people were at my MOOC to learn. While it is a community, and socialization is part of that, the most important thing is to create an environment focused on learning. I had expected more socialization and personal relationships in the course, but there is this huge crowd feel to it. And now that I think of it, I have rarely met someone within a huge crowd that I have maintained a lasting relationship with. I think to really promote individuality we need to find ways to create smaller groups within the crowd. This is a known issue with MOOCs and one that I tried to solve in a few ways while running my MOOC, and I know of other teachers that have tried it with various amounts of success. Really, I think it is a design problem, and this is an evolving learning/teaching format. As it develops teachers and students will work together to improve the environment. Right now I feel that we are just starting to understand how this works. We should be careful about judging the success or failure of this format for a couple of years. Give the teachers and software developers time to identify and solve the issues. Right now there is amazing support for MOOCs from colleges and they are creating so much of this amazing content and supplying it to the world for free! We really owe a huge debt to the colleges, like Berklee, and the individuals that are taking the risk to create these classes. Creating these classes takes time and money and the rewards are uncertain. I could go on and list other issues with the current MOOC situation, but that pales in comparison to the one thing that I do know: thousands of people were able to study with me, a Berklee professor, for free, and that is an amazing thing.
: Thanks so much Loudon! This has certainly made me more excited about participating in the YouTube Creator’s Academy MOOC. I’m going to keep an open mind and embrace it with full force.
For more from Loudon Stearns follow him on Twitter: @LoudonStearns. You can also register to be apart of his next Music Production MOOC with Coursera here:
To stay up to date with our experience and opinion on the YouTube Creator’s Academy follow ZoomTilt on Twitter: @ZoomTilt