'Creativity, Innovation and Change' Professor: MOOCs Are a 'Big Experiment'

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Penn State's first wave of MOOC professors share their thoughts, experiences with online educators.

White board notes for Penn State Creativity MOOC.

Sketch notes for "Creativity, Innovation and Change," a MOOC offered by Penn State in fall 20103. Image by Linda Saukko-Rauta

The power to do certain things with MOOCs is tremendous, but they’re not going to do everything well, and we shouldn’t expect them to.

Kathryn Jablokow calls MOOCs “a really, really big experiment” and one she’s excited to be part of.

Jablokow is one of three professors who recently taught a massive open online course offered by Penn State on “Creativity, Innovation and Change.” More than 150,000 students signed up for the class, which ended in November. Jablokow will be part of a faculty panel on MOOCs on Tuesday, Dec. 2, as part of the third annual World Campus Faculty Convocation at Penn State’s University Park campus. (The panel will be streamed live at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday at http://wpsu.org/live/convocation13/.)

Jablokow, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and engineering design, said teaching a MOOC has “different benefits and different challenges” than teaching smaller classes on or off line.

In some ways, she said, MOOCs are nothing new. “Online isn’t new. Massive isn’t new. But this particular way of doing it is new. And like any new technology, it’s not sitting still.”

Following the extreme excitement and hype that initially greeted MOOCs, there is now something of a backlash. “It’s an experimental process,” Jablokow said. “Some things work, and some things don’t. The power to do certain things with MOOCs is tremendous, but they’re not going to do everything well, and we shouldn’t expect them to.”

One of the biggest challenges of MOOCs is how to give students feedback on how they do in the course, Jablokow said. The creativity class experimented with peer assessments and optional projects to earn certificates.

“If we can crack the assessment nut, it will enhance the quality of the experience tremendously.”

Jablokow, who plans to integrate some ideas she learned from teaching the MOOC into her regular online and classroom courses, said the MOOC discussion forums provided the instructors with immediate — and often blunt — feedback. “It can be kind of shocking, but it’s probably a good thing in that you get the good, the bad and the ugly right away,” she said.

The creativity course, which Jablokow co-taught with Penn State engineering professors Jack V. Matson and Darrell Velegol, was the fourth of Penn State’s initial offering of five courses in partnership with the MOOC platform Coursera. The courses have attracted more than 300,000 enrollments so far overall. The fifth course, “Energy, the Environment and Our Future,” begins Jan. 6.

The free courses have spurred an increase in requests for information and applications for Penn State’s online World Campus, one way that Penn State hopes to leverage MOOCs. The University, which has been a leader in online learning since World Campus opened in 1998, also hopes to use MOOCs to showcase faculty and university expertise, test teaching strategies and delivery models, and engage with international students.

For more information on Penn State’s MOOC offerings, visit http://coursera.org/psu.

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Hilary Appelman
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