Since dealing with copyright issues is part of my job I was curious about the recent MOOC on Copyright for Educators and Librarians. If you are not familiar with MOOCs the acronym stands for Massive Open Online Courses. They’re the new trendy thing in higher education. I have my doubts, but that is not for this blog post. Professors teach online courses to large numbers of people for free is essentially the gist of it. There are a couple of different sites for MOOCs including EdX, Udacity, and Coursera, which was used for this course.
This particular course was produced at Duke and taught by 3 instructors, one from Duke, one from UNC, and one from Emory. MOOCs can have enrollments in the 10s of thousands. This one had about 8,000 to start. Statistics show that completion rates of MOOCs are pitifully small, so I would be curious to know how many people actually completed this one.
Back before the program got eliminated I also completed an online certificate in copyright management through the University of Maryland University College’s Center for Intellectual Property. I was curious to how my experiences learning online in a more traditionally sized course compared to a MOOC. The biggest difference was obviously the size. There is no way the professors could give personal attention to all the students in this course nor could they actually grade our written assignments. All we got in the way of feedback was an answer rubric that let us compare what we had written to what they thought we should have written. In both instances I felt like online learning was not as useful as in person learning. Both revolved a lot around discussion boards and it felt like people were just responding to the instructor’s questions and not so much each other so it wasn’t really much of a discussion. Maybe other instructors have found better ways to facilitate this, but so far my experiences have been poor. It’s nothing like having an in-class discussion on a topic where people are really engaging it. In the MOOC it was also impossible to keep up with all the posts because there were a ridiculous amount of them. The software running this course was also pitiful in regards to the discussions of this scale. The box to add your input to the discussion was at the bottom of the thread which could be hundreds of posts long so you had to scroll forever to get there if you weren’t one of the first people to respond. Second if you actually did start having an actual conversation with someone you could never realistically go back and see if they responded to you. Good luck ever finding that particular post again, and there was no way to subscribe to just a single post conversation without subscribing to the entire discussion thread. I accidentally did that once and my email inbox was flooded in minutes until I got back in and shut it off.
Though most of the content for me was stuff I already knew, I did pick up a few things especially around international copyright law which I’m not very familiar with. It was also good reinforcement that I do know what I’m talking about, which is definitely good since I’m trying to educate others about copyright. I did find the topic order a little haphazard and not the order I generally see copyright information presented. It made me wonder if people who were coming into this cold or with very little knowledge of copyright law were able to follow along as well as I did. I do know that one of my friends who also took this course was confused by where they got some of the answers because she didn’t know the case law they were pulling from and they didn’t specifically note it in the example answer.
I certainly appreciate that something like this course exists, and hope they do run it again in the future. I think it’s a good first step for people interested in copyright. I’m glad I participated and got to experience what learning through a MOOC is like. I can see MOOCs being useful for people wanting to get a baseline amount of information or a refresher on a topic, but I in no way think they substitute for more traditional courses whether online or face-to-face.