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One for my baby, and one more for the MOOC

Final weeks of Jazz MOOC
(Copy of my blog post to

This is the third blog sharing my experiences of a MOOC.

Read part 1.
Read part 2.
Read part 3.

The final 3 weeks of jazz-MOOC continued to be really interesting, providing insight into ways of improving improvisation techniques, namely using MODES, following melody and chord SEQUENCES, going for THEMES and VARIATIONS.

How did the whole thing seem to be going overall? Well alongside from my favourite quote:

“capture the moos of the piece, and develop a theme”

by now there was a nice group of people (maybe 15 or so) regularly uploading and commenting on SoundCloud. People were very nice and I wouldn’t say the comments were at all constructive or of any real benefit, but they were rather nice.

The forum continued to be comments and threads about the course rather than questioning and sharing ideas about the content, or getting help on the assignments. The forum seemed to have many more contributors that were present on SoundCloud, so I hope they felt part of a community more than I did. I still felt quite isolated, and unlike going to school or University for the first time, you don’t seem to make “buddies” online.

Peer-assignment. FAIL!

To me this is the one aspect where online assessment of the masses WILL SIMPLY NEVER WORK. The peer-assignment framework was subjective, and placed quite a high onus on “presentation” (and someone would be penalised for not having the greatest recording equipment in the world, or access to a scanner to upload music scores). You absolutely cannot review someone else’s assignment if you lack the knowledge. There is a huge assumption that the content will give us all the understanding to then go and grade each other’s work, but this really wasn’t the case.

I peer reviewed many assignments and admit that I didn’t have the experience to know if a LOCRIAN MODE always did work over a minor 7 flat 5 scale, and I certainly couldn’t evaluate whether my classmates were playing these correctly in their recordings. Maybe peer-review might work online for other more factual subjects where the answers are clear-cut, and easily obtained from the videos. But it didn’t quite cross the boundaries into the arts for me.

Also you could tell people were getting BORED. Initial assignments were getting 5 or 6 reviews, and were only getting 1 or 2 at the end. The overall grades were always marvellously generous. These grades went toward your overall assessment mark.

As with face-to-face learning, it was interesting that students got completely hung-up on the grade as being the far most important thing. Some commented they were really unhappy with their grades – that some students didn’t know what they were doing: so the peer-review wasn’t perceived as being an accurate process.

So did I pass my MOOC?

I received a final email saying goodbye and a link to a survey (the third for the entire course). I didn’t get an overall grade which suggests I failed the thing because the MOOC said:

“Those of you that score 70% or higher will receive a Statement of Accomplishment. These certificates are stored with your profile on the Coursera site and will not be automatically e-mailed out to you”.

So maybe I didn’t score 70% and I didn’t warrant a statement of accomplishment.

But I DID accomplish stuff!

And surely I’m the judge of that? Learning is not about assessment, credentials, badges, grades. Learning and the role of the traditional skilled lecturer is to inspire and motivate the individual to find out more, and that is exactly what I did. The course tutor Gary Burton was great, and I didn’t understand much of the theory, but I did get the overall idea and have tried to play differently at gigs and I think this is working.

Gary Burton, Tutor on the Jazz Improvisation MOOC.

So do MOOCs have a future?

This question is being asked almost on a daily basis at the moment. Presumably the answer is yes because of the high level of investment and marketing behind them. But ARE MOOCs IMPORTANT TO THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION?

Problem 1 – technical glitches
These were minor but clearly there were aspects that needed to be ironed out. The interface wasn’t entirely easy to navigate – I didn’t realize the quizzes were part of the assessment. So, some good old usability studies would make the MOOC more accessible to everyone. (A big factor for drop outs I recon).

Problem 2 – assessment
Collecting grades, badges, certificates from peer-review processes would be exceedingly dubious without any expert intervention. Peer-review does not work in this format. Self-marking multiple choices would be an option and this would be suitable for introductory courses and learning some basic factual information, but again, a weak option for assessing someone’s in-depth understanding or for art subjects.

Problem 3 – video content
Having a poor-broadband connection out in the countryside, there were times when I couldn’t access the content. A truly “open” resource would be downloadable and available in a range of formats. The videos should be extended to address accessibility and to reach a wider audience in terms of learning styles. These aspects are essential and a requirement in face-to-face classrooms, so why aren’t they a consideration for on-line learning?

Why not make the video content OPEN, or is their commercial potential being protected for a rainy day?

So what do I really think?

Important in the future of education? In the current state I hope not. After careful research and improvement, then maybe as introductory sessions or refreshers for some factual subjects, or some practical subjects that lend themselves to video. These aren’t proven to be pedagogically effective systems. I wouldn’t want my child’s education or any part of it replaced by a MOOC yet.

MOOCs are great for a hobby or to pursue an existing interest, but it would be a sad day when full-time learners were confined to the internet and not able to gain from the life changing opportunities and lifelong friendships that attending college and university has to offer.

MOOC providers now own databases full of millions of potential learners – customers – so are a bit of a loss leader in advance of other educational products that will surely follow. Someone somewhere will want a return on this hefty investment surely?

Read part 1 of my experience

Read part 2

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