This is an account of Week 2 and 3 of the MOOC that I am taking, called “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior.” You can catch my write-up of Week 1 here.
In week 2, which was about money, I watched some of the videos early in the week, but waited until Monday, the deadline, to do the quizzes. This turned out to be a bad idea. I could not remember any of the details from the first videos. This may have been due to the time that had elapsed, but I also remember multitasking while watching the videos. I have a dual-monitor setup, and I put the video on the secondary monitor while I did other work on the primary. Surprise, surprise, I clearly did not absorb the information. I took the test 5 times of the allowed 15 to get up to a score of 19/20. The first few were much lower. I then looked over the readings, scanning for the gist and for keywords. After about 1/2 hour over 5 articles, I took the quiz, and immediately scored 10/11. Good enough. There is a lot of overlap between lecture and reading, and this time I got a little lucky because I knew some of the stuff already.
Retaking quizzes is interesting. You can’t just keep retaking them and choosing the one answer that comes up over and over, which would logically be the right answer. Both the wrong and correct answers change each time you take it. In other words, there are several correct answers just as there are several wrong answers (more than 3) that the software cycles through during retakes. I was struck by the immense amount of work this would take. I would love to do the same thing in courses I teach, but it seems really labor intensive.
For week 3, which was about dishonesty, I plowed through the videos on the last day, and took the test a few times. There is a new flexible deadline, where the hard deadline is Monday and the soft deadline is later in the week. I decided to take advantage of this and take the reading quiz later.I got 22/25 on the lecture quiz in one try, but I simply did not have time to read the material nor to take the quiz. I am not sure I will, to be honest (no pun intended). I might skip the week 3 readings and move on to week 4.
Each week, there is about an hour-long video called “Office Hours” where an assistant asks Dan Ariely a series of questions from the week.
Here is the video from Week 2:
I found this one fascinating for several reasons. First, I like how personable and candid Prof. Ariely is in the video. He talks a lot about the price of free, and the fact that this Coursera course is free. He estimates that about 3000 hours went into the making of the videos alone, which I found awe-inspiring. He compared the whole thing to television, which attracts and keeps viewers’ attention through close attention to detail, entertaining products, and, frankly, lots of work. I found it interesting that the model for these videos was television, and not the classroom.
I think the approach is working. I am slacking off more than I might if I had paid for the class or if finishing it actually meant something to me (accreditation, cv line, etc.), but I am sticking with it, and enjoying myself as I learn some pretty cool ideas. Some of the reason I am sticking around has to be the level of entertainment thrown into the mix.
Week 4 is “Labor and Motivation,” which is right up my alley.
With all this talk about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), whether they are revolutionizing or destroying higher ed, I decided to dive into one. The pro-MOOC people will argue that we don’t need classrooms, and local colleges are now defunct. The anti-MOOCers claim that these systems are motivated only by profit, and that no meaningful learning could possibly take place in these environments (Here’s an insightful recent article on the topic). I will probably not settle this debate with this experiment, but I thought a first-hand account was in order.
I signed up for Dan Ariely’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” MOOC from Duke University. I don’t remember how I heard about it, but I impulsively signed up as soon as it came across my email/twitter/FB/G+ or wherever it came from.
(This is probably the worst possible time for me to sign up for something like this. I am teaching six classes across three different colleges and universities and I have a rigorous tutoring schedule. I am also writing like crazy in my free time, finishing a memoir and a novel. So maybe Irrationality is exactly the right topic for me.)
On Wednesday, I sign into the course on Coursera, and immediately see that the six-week course is already divided into “Video Lectures,” “Reading Assignments,” and “Quizzes,” all on the top of the left sidebar. Under that is “Discussion Fora,” “Writing Assignment,” and “Hangout.” Apparently there is a way to use Google Hangouts with other students. There is also a G+ page for students. I click on “Video Lectures” and see 6 videos for week 1, plus two guest lectures. Under “Readings” there are 5 “Required Readings” and a bunch of Recommended Readings. I can handle this. I click “Quizzes” and see that the Quiz is due by midnight my time on Monday. Pretty smart, I think, to give people the weekend. I’ll have to remember that next time I teach an online class.
I peruse the Discussion Fora for a minute, and the first thing I see is a post entitled “Are the readings necessary?” As of today, the top post under the readings forum is titled “Why can’t research papers be easy to read and simple to understand?” in which the author complains about the phrasing “…labeling of sodas with popular brands do not cause difference in recruitment of gustatory regions…” suggesting instead “”branding makes no difference to how we deploy our taste buds”. This post has been upvoted to the top, and the discussion is split between defenders of jargon and those who want to lambaste academic style as puffery and obscurantism. I have a Ph.D. in a Humanities discipline, but I had to read a lot of social science papers, so the readings are no big deal. I want to tell them to try reading some essays in film studies, for example, where the jargon is, strangely, denser.
Of course, I wait until Monday to do everything. There are about 2 hours of videos, which I watch Monday morning. The videos are informative and engaging, in part due to Ariely’s easy, engaging style, and in part due to the interface. The videos stop from time to time to ask a question, and continue when you get it right (if there is one correct answer). The content of the videos tends to clarify the readings as well as deal with related concepts or applications of the material.
I peruse the readings quickly. Some are jargon-laden, as the discussion board posts indicate, but not too bad. When you know how to read an academic article, especially in the social sciences, it is easy to know what to skip when necessary. I found some of them quite fascinating, actually. As there is a lot of overlap between the readings and videos, I decide to pay more attention to the videos, and use the readings to drill down further.
The quiz structure is interesting. You may take each quiz (one on the videos and one of the readings) up to 15 times. The highest score counts. I am taking this course for enrichment and experience. There is no certificate attached to it, and I get nothing out of it but knowledge and material for this blog. That said, I try my hardest on the quizzes. After three attempts, I get an 87 on the video quiz, which is fine with me. On the reading quiz, I get a 90 on my second try. If you retry, the questions can change, as can the multiple-choice answers. In school, I did not like getting Bs, but I did from time to time. On this, I have the same attitude, but I am not going to be a perfectionist. The high-ish scores tell me I have absorbed most of the material, and that is good enough for me.
After the week, there is survey about money, next week’s topic. I took this opportunity to do the entrance survey, which I had somehow missed. It asks why you are taking the class, whether you will take the quizzes and write the essay. There are no guidelines about the essay, but it looks like it will be a peer-graded situation. I’ll let you know when I know.
I don’t know how many people are in this course, but I believe the number is around 30,000, because one of the surveys indicates roughly that many participants. There is a pie-chart that says that 33% are from the U.S., with India coming in second at 6.5%, unknown at 5.6% and Canada at 4%. The rest are below 4, but they are spread across the globe.
As many of you have heard, Google Reader will be gone July 1, leaving many of us scrambling for another reader. I have been using Reader for a long time, and have never considered switching, so I’m at a loss. I am trying Feedly right now, and I’ve heard Newsblur is good, but it costs money. I know there will be new solutions created to fill the void in the next several months, so, for now, there’s no need to panic.
I wonder what this means for Feedburner, which Google bought a long time ago and has done nothing with. I use Feedburner for this blog, and will continue to do so until it’s dead, because I don’t want to change RSS feeds on you.
For those of you who read this blog in GReader, I recommend you check out one of the services listed above. I’ve been hearing a lot about The Old Reader as well, but there are 14000+ people ahead of me in the import queue, so I can’t speak to that.
Another option for this blog is to sign up for the email service. I will update you not only about recent blog posts but also about other goings-on in my life and around the web. I’ll also occasionally offer exclusive content to list subscribers, and I will never spam you or sell your email address. Just put your email address in the box below.
Please let me know if you find any worthy replacements for Google Reader.