This course is a lot of work – it's challenging and robust, and I'm learning a lot.
This isn't my first online course, I've taken one before – it was a lot of work, and I learned a good deal. But this is my first MOOC, and I wondered if a course delivered to tens of thousands of students at the same time, thereby eliminating the possibility of any sort of dialogue with the professor, would be academically vigorous. Would there be some sort of necessary dumbing-down of the content and assignments in order to address the seeming “one way” nature of the delivery model?
My Experience So Far
My respect for the potential of MOOCs has definitely increased as I have worked my way through week's 2 through 4 of Coursera's Operations Management course. It's pretty intense, and the practice assignments and homework take significant effort! Additionally, the course structure and discussion forums together combine to provide a pretty functional means of interaction and handling difficult learning content.
In Week 2 we started getting equations to work with and the content quickly got more involved, using Little's Law to calculate Inventory flow rates, learning about the significance of Inventory Turns and how to calculate them, and so on. Throughout the videos, we delved deeper and deeper into more complex production scenarios and the considerations they bring for process management. We've learned about process maps, process analysis and operational variables like Flow Rates, Cost of Goods Sold, and Productivity, making KIP (Key Performances Indicator) Trees and a great more.
As expected, the biggest challenge (from my perspective) is how to handle difficult content – where do you turn to seek guidance when there is no instructor available for dialogue? There are a few approaches to getting questions answered or seeking additional input. One obvious approach is the Discussion Forums, which are a relief to have available, but they are very busy and can be somewhat overwhelming and inefficient to search through. Of course, you can always watch the videos again and rewind-and-repeat the difficult areas. The practice problems are great too, as they have answers and solutions provided (although not necessarily explained – often the solution provided is just a formula with the proper figures plugged in).
A few examples of marked up slides from the course.
Fortunately, each week's videos conclude with a review module where problems are tackled and solutions illustrated. The practice problems are similar and solutions are available, and then it's time to tackle the homework. One thing that is also helpful are the hints provided when you submit incorrect answers on the homework (you are encouraged to submit repeatedly and the highest score is your final score for the assignment – it is stated in the course materials that the goal is to learn, not to make scoring good grades the focal point).
A Few Other Observations
I should also mention that the course slides are available online for downloading (in Powerpoint and PDF formats), but these are the original slides, prior to Professor Terwiesch's marking up of the slides while lecturing. I found it quite helpful to occasionally pause the videos and use the Windows Snipping Tool to grab shots of marked up slides, which I could then refer back to while working through practice problems or assignments.
I don't recall being told how much time to expect to spend per week. It's been pretty time consuming – week 2 has 5 video modules, and week 3 and 4 had 7 or 8 each (about 9 to 12 minutes or longer in duration). I've spent a couple hours watching the content and then several hours working on practice problems and homework each week.
One significant question that remains for MOOCs in general is: how can they produce a credential that colleges could/would accept for credit? While there is a required honor code check box with each homework assignment, students can still easily cheat. Homework counts for 50% of the grade in this particular course, with the Final accounting for the other 50%. I could certainly envision a model in which students have to pay for a proctored final exam, thereby generating income for the MOOCs and validity for the student and the rigor of the process. It will be interesting to see how this works out going forward.
Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
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