I have become a student again. Yes, I am now a student of the University of Edinburgh. This would have brought great pleasure to my Scots grandmother I am sure.
Yes, I have started my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). It is called “Philosophy for Everybody”, lasts for seven weeks, will require me to study for 1-2 hours a week and has a book that goes with the course.
How did this come about? Well I had, some time ago, wandered through the various web sites of the major providers – Coursera, NovoEd and so on – and must have left my email address somewhere that indicated I would be interested. They got in touch recently with a range of courses that I might be interested in. Easy, minimum fuss from my point of view, getting back to me impressed me – all behaviours that face-to-face providers might strive to copy.
I needed something that would not have time demands that were too heavy, that was focussed, had good, helpful resources and related to my interests and past learning. This fitted the bill nicely.
At 1-2 hours a week I could see myself managing this. The trouble with so much conventional learning is that it is dolloped out in such large chunks, like the ladles of mashed potato thrown onto your plate in the army mess-hall. I wanted finger food.
The focus was clear and the explanations of it attractive – a short introduction to some of the current approaches to philosophy, thinking and ideas. The resources were clear – seven staff members at the University of Edinburgh each wrote a chapter related to their unit in the course, they were put together into a book and that was it. I got mine from Amazon and put it into my Kindle – I have the resources for the course with me in convenient form.
I am interested in philosophy having undertaken Philosophy 1 in my BA degree many years ago. That course was strong on logic (Students sit in lecture halls. This is a lecture hall. Therefore I must be a student) and some selected philosophers – Bergson and Plato I think.
But the impressive thing to this point has been the total ease with which I have been enrolled -not only the ease, but also the style and approach. I was on first name terms with the University of Edinburgh and the philosophy team instantly. “Hello Stuart, Welcome to the University of Edinburgh.” I was enrolled, welcomed and knew what I needed to know in the space of the time it takes to search and make the thirteen clicks required by conventional tertiary websites.
Of course the course despite attracting the description “massive”, is very small and narrow. What is massive became apparent on Monday when the course started. I signed the “Honor Code” which was a simple set of requirements related to ethical and sensible behaviour in my conduct – these people trusted me! I didn’t have to show my passport, three invoices with my address on them, proof that I had the entry requirements, no standing in a queue, no being interviewed by strangers who would decide whether or not they wanted me in the course. I received detailed advice and guidance about how the course would be conducted, a detailed “syllabus” and invitations to join the discussion group,
The course had actually been open for 12 hours when I got to it on Tuesday morning and already there were several hundred people logged on to the discussion room and they came from all over the world. It was like walking into a common room full of the buzz of friendly conversation with no-one staring. Immediately I was taken by the massive reach of this course geographically, across ages and experience. Being shy by nature I didn’t sign in – I shall do that this weekend.
Now I know that it is easy to be enthusiastic at the beginning. A whopping 93% of those who start a MOOC are not there at the end. I am determined to be there. At that point, if I have “completed” the course (I know exactly what that entails and will require), I shall receive my “Certificate”. This will not be one that produces credit (you need to have your credit card handy when enrolling in those ones) but rather a simple acknowledgement of course participation and completion. That’s all I need at my stage. That might be all that a huge number of people are looking for. I suspect that MOOCs have wide appeal as a kind of Online University of the Third Age.
I promise not to bore you with a blow-by-blow account of my toe-dipping experience with this course and style of learning but will report back to you later in the year when I have completed the course (or, perhaps, have dropped out, or perhaps have failed to pass!).