The next miracle (v11.1): Owen Youngman

Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Medill / Northwestern

Owen YoungmanOwen YoungmanOwen Youngman

Still massive, but not so mysterious

We’ll have more MOOC veterans this time around (data updated 5/25/14; percentages rounded).

It stands to reason that, as time goes on and the number of people who have taken massively open online courses through Coursera has increased to more than 7 million, the composition and goals of the student body for any individual course would evolve. I’m certainly seeing that as I review data from my optional pre-course surveys in advance of launching Session 2 of “Understanding Media by Understanding Google” on May 26. For example, the chart above shows that the students this time will have more experience with MOOCs. The number of enrolled students who never before have taken a MOOC has dropped from about half to about a third, and a handful of respondents reported having taken more than 50 (I lumped everyone at or above 10 into a single group). It obviously follows that curiosity about the concept is shrinking in importance, but the table that follows shows some other interesting changes too. These numbers are those who said a given factor was “very” or “quite” important in their decision to enroll, the top two boxes out of 5 possible answers:

Relative importance, Session 1 vs. Session 2

How important was the following factor when you chose to enroll?Session 2: n=1,770 Session 1: n= 3,000
I'm curious about online courses24.3%40.4%
The subject is relevant to my academic field
I want to earn a credential for my CV / résumé29.9%43.5%
It's offered by a prestigious university33.0%42.0%
The class teaches ideas that will help my job / career62.0%69.6%
I want a different perspective on a subject I'm interested in69.4%75.1%
Continue reading

The MOOC springs back to life

Today’s Wall Street Journal brings a “Journal Report” on “six crucial issues” in technology . . . though your mileage will vary on just how “crucial” they might be: After all, they range from “Should Broadband Internet Access Be Regulated as a Public Utility?” to “Is Now the Time to Buy a 4K Television?”

Somewhere along that continuum we find, as the print edition would have it, “What Role Will Large Online Courses Play in the Future of Higher Education?” The Journal saves the usual acronym for the subhead: “Three experts debate whether MOOCs will create two separate but unequal college experiences,” perhaps because “large” is actually a way better adjective than “massive.”

Large or massive, MOOCs continue to generate a lot of data, a fair amount of media attention (or maybe not), and more than a few chances for professors to try to interpret their data. To that end, what was I up to after the MOOC, while not posting to this blog? Well, let’s see.


Kept wondering if the undergraduates in “American Media through the Lens of Google,” might have preferred to take the Coursera version instead of walking over to Fisk Hall at 9 a.m. Why, you ask?

Well, here are the morning low temperatures in Evanston on seven of the first ten class days: minus 1, zero, minus 5, minus 12, plus 9, plus 2, minus 5. (And this omits the first scheduled session, when the morning low of minus 13 meant the university canceled all classes–that, plus the 12 inches of snow that had fallen on the weekend.) Continue reading

After the MOOC

Student interest in topics in the Coursera MOOC "Understanding Media by Understanding Google"

Your mileage may vary. Hmm, I say that a lot.

The final assignments arrived in early November. The grades went out a week later (and in theory 1,196 people started celebrating the fact that they passed). So what have I been doing, you might ask, since I finished teaching Northwestern’s first massively open online course?

Mostly, I have been trying to figure out what actually happened over the six weeks of “Understanding Media by Understanding Google” on Coursera, and then start writing about it (spoiler alert: links below). Continue reading

So is it lonely in MOOClandia?


Jeff Jarvis (bottom left), my remote-controlled Android robot (background), and I hang out with students in Evanston and around the globe on Oct. 17.

The students in “Understanding Media by Understanding Google” are nearing the end of their six-week sojourn in the land of Medill’s first massively open online course. Our closing topics are Google’s forays into social media, and then a second bite out of the privacy apple: a lecture entitled “The Private, the Public, the Politic(s).” Central content comes from Jeff Jarvis, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and Eli Pariser, supplemented with on-camera interviews on the latter topic with Jarvis and Vaidhyanathan.

The students’ final written homework assignment? “Take a position on whether our decreasing anonymity online, and the increases in data collection and information sharing that accompany this decrease, either improves or damages 21st-century life.” With citations, of course. I wonder if anyone will cite the new Dave Eggers novel

Even though the video lectures were taped over the summer, the activity in the course’s discussion forums is keeping us up to date. Thanks to well over 20,000 posts and comments in more than 2,500 threads, little that has been in the news about the intersection of Google and the media has escaped notice since the course launched on Sept. 16.

I’ve been working to pay attention, and have been called on to start sharing what I notice. Last Thursday, for example, The Guardian published some of my observations; the 60 comments beneath the piece help to highlight how strongly people already feel about MOOCs, whether or not they have tried one. I also made a couple of presentations on campus — one at a faculty forum on teaching, learning and assessment, the other at a homecoming-weekend gathering of interested alumni. And I have been studying the results of a mid-course survey that I served up to students after three weeks had gone by. Continue reading

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