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).

Naturally, I have been working on my two winter syllabi as well, with the quarter set to begin on January 6. And since one of the two is for the on-campus version of the undergraduate course that gave rise to the MOOC, there is a fair amount to do.

But to understand “Understanding Media” (to be sort of meta about it), I have been going to the data . . . and there is a lot of it, both from the class itself and from a 20-question post-course survey I administered. Of the 1,196 people who earned a “statement of accomplishment,” more than 800 responded, as well as a smaller number of people who wound up not earning the required 70 points out of 100.

It’s so much data that the discipline required to turn a bunch of numbers into a narrative is, as usual, quite helpful, even though some–like the simple chart above, about what students found interesting–can speak for themselves.

While I sort through the rest of the data, feel free to have a look at these:

  • In late November I had some fun with numbers at The Atlantic’s site Quartz, analyzing what the various levels of engagement in the MOOC might equate to in the real world. For example: when is 1,196 equal to more than half of 55,142? Click here to find out. Or click here for the version that was posted on, which gets 10 times as much traffic, and where the headline had a far different tenor. (With colorful graphic.)
  • Just this week (Dec. 9) in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I tried to think through what the value of a MOOC credential might turn out to be, as well as who will be determining that value. Go here to agree or disagree, as commenters are already doing. (With no graphic whatsoever.)

At any rate, more soon. In the interim, I also have created a page on this Web site to gather links to my writings here and elsewhere, and a few pieces written by others that have come to my attention. It’s also linked in the top navigation bar; enjoy.

About Owen Youngman

Professor Emeritus of Journalism and formerly Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. Formerly senior vice president/strategy and development and director of interactive media, Chicago Tribune.