First week of a MOOC

Mook (n.) Coined in the Scorsese film, ‘Mean Streets’, meaning a arsehole or loser. (source:


I started my first MOOC this week, the Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization which is going to run until 23 Feb. It’s run by Alberto Cairo at the Knight Centre, University of Texas. So far it’s been a good experience, and structurally not too different from the OU module H800 (Technology Enhanced Learning: Practices and Debates). We had to read a couple of chapters, watch an online lecture, post in the forum and do a short quiz.

A few reflections

The enthusiasm of Prof. Cairo is infectious, and in a funny way, the first week involves getting to know him. I now know what he looks like, a bit about where he is from, where he has lived, where he has worked. From the first lecture, I know what he sounds like. And we’ve all read a bit of his latest book (chapters provided free as part of the course).

It’s easy to underestimate how important this is. A course delivered entirely online has a way of reducing people to date-stamped usernames. It’s vitally important for motivation, if nothing else, that students feel personally involved with the course they are doing. Academia, like a lot of clubs, is a lot about acceptance and getting to know people. It is emphatically not just about the acquisition of knowledge and skills.

On my OU module, we were divided into groups of about 10 to discuss topics in forums. This worked pretty well, and we were free to explore other forums if we wanted to find out other people’s views. Our tutor started the forum and took part in the discussions.

On a MOOC with 5000 participants, this isn’t going to work. It’s free to join, so how do you know how seriously people are going to take it? If we were put into groups of 10, I could find myself in a group with 9 other people who signed up for the course, but for whatever reason decided not to take part. This would leave me figuratively in an empty room talking to myself.

The MOOC at the Knight Center solves this by opening 25 forums and letting you choose one to take part in. Within a few days of the course starting, they were full of comments. I picked number 1 and read through people’s responses to the task (we had to suggest improvements on a infographic, e.g. this one). As I scanned through them, I soon realised most of the possible improvements had already been suggested. It felt like there wasn’t much point in adding my answer as I would just be repeating what other people had already said. I logged out feeling a little downhearted.

A few days later I logged back in and joined a different forum, number 8. Again, it was full of responses. This time I decided to ignore them and just went ahead and answered the question. This worked better. Later I responded to a few other people’s posts. I raised a question:

Regarding the “Bubble Plague”, or the difficulty in perceiving the relative sizes of circles – is this worsened by the use of three-dimensional shapes?

For instance, if two figures are presented as squares on the one hand, and cubes on the other, is the difference equally easy to see? Or would the cubes produce a less significant-seeming difference?

This is relevant here, as it is unclear whether the size of the planets represents a sphere or a circle. I’m not much of a mathematician, but I would imagine it’s harder to tell the difference between the sizes of two spheres than two circles.

I remember someone telling me once that 50% of the volume of an orange is peel. 

Can anyone verify this for me?

Two hours later, I got a response from someone who works at Oxford University. This was great! (Apparently if an orange with a 5cm diameter has 0.5cm peel, the peel is only 27%. Still, that’s quite a lot).

So overall, the first week has been positive. On Saturday, I start my second MOOC, E-learning and Digital Cultures.


One thought on “First week of a MOOC

  1. Hey, I’m taking this course too. It was definitely overwhelming to see the responses to the forums we were supposed to comment on. Since there were way too many to sift through at first. So I waited until after I posted my own response before reading them. That way I wouldn’t have been influenced by the answers I saw. I wanted to make sure my opinion was my own and I wasn’t just following crowd mentality. Can’t wait to see how the weeks progress going forward!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s