Massive Open Online Courses

Isn’t it delightful when someone does something good for everyone? That is how I feel about MOOCs, massive, open, online classes. This allows teachers to polish and perfect lectures, to use other people’s lectures, and to keep the class time to interactions, to working together, arguing through difficult concepts. Work alone when you are alone. Work together when you are together. Here is the person to follow, the completely brilliant Mohamed Noor. Here are his thoughts about MOOCs. He had a lot of help getting great lectures up there, but the inspiration came from him. Teaching is undergoing a revolution right now. Find what new techniques work for you and jump aboard.

My wonderful Behavioral Ecology 2012 class.

My wonderful Behavioral Ecology 2012 class.

I have been working with another kind of online teaching: Wikipedia. I’ll be writing more about this in the future, but for now, here is the link to my course. Mohamed is right that getting images that are not restricted is a challenge. One thing we can do about that is to upload images of our favorite organisms to Wikimedia with their Wizard to do it. Please choose the most liberal copyright. I pick that you can do anything with my images so long as you credit me for taking them.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in The joy of teaching and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Massive Open Online Courses

  1. Jeremy Fox says:

    The link to Mohammed Noor’s thoughts on MOOCs goes to a page that doesn’t exist. It may be something weird about his blog. If I just go to his blog homepage ( and then copy the link location for this post, I get the same URL as you have. But if I try to paste that URL into my browser, I get an error saying the page doesn’t exist.

  2. Pingback: Is higher education about to go the way of the music industry? (UPDATED) | Dynamic Ecology

  3. Thanks, Jeremy. I fixed it and put a link to his more general blog which I hope works.

  4. Jeremy Fox says:

    On a substantive note, thank you for the interesting post. You and Noah seem positive about MOOCs for somewhat different reasons than Clay Shirky, whose views on MOOCs inspired me to post recently.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you and Noah seem to view MOOCs not as a replacement for traditional university courses (which is what Shirky envisions), but either as a supplement (basically, online videos for “fact delivery” in order to free up class time for discussion, which perhaps stretches the definition of “MOOC”), or else as just an act of altruism. Someone with knowledge offering to guide the self-study of anyone interested in the subject being taught, with guidance coming in the form of video lectures and assignments that can be automatically graded. And the students take the course mostly out of interest in the subject, as there’s no formal credit, credential, or certification to be gained.

    I can certainly appreciate that altruistic act. Blogging is similar in some ways. There’s no very concrete incentive for you to write this blog, but you do it. And there’s no concrete incentive, in the form of credit or a credential, for anyone to read it. It’s just people sharing ideas because they want to share ideas.

    On that vision, it’s hard to see MOOCs as being terribly disruptive to the existing college and university system, the way Shirky claims they will be (he argues that MOOCs will destroy the business model of most colleges and universities, the way the internet + MP3 files destroyed the business model of the music industry).

  5. What do we know about why we do what we do? We are a social species. We act in groups. We are happy when we feel valued. I began blogging with GoodbyeHouston as a way of getting over a town I love and left. I continue because I know how academia works and I want to share that knowledge, so I began another blog. I want people who are not born into academic families to understand how it works. I want people to easily love learning as much as I do. It goes on. I think things on the education front are changing fast and the change is fascinating. I hope it helps more people to learn how evidence-based evaluation works. I hope we have more scientists. We will still need to assess people. A college degree from a prestigious institution like the ones I teach at is a lazy way of doing that and so won’t go away. If there are new ways, I would only be delighted. Am I going to lose my job? Unlikely given the terms of my contract and my 15 to 20 year time horizon before I move to less formal ways of teaching.

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