Edtech MOOC

Wandering down empty hallways

This is a very unusual summer for me: it’s August and I haven’t been to the coast yet. As a teacher (and language school owner) I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to be able to go on holiday whenever I chose to as opposed to having to go when there were no students willing to pay for classes. Still, I guess because so many people go in August, things are more relaxed if you choose to stay in the office. For one, I finally have time to explore MOOCs a bit. Since part of my job over the past year has involved coordinating MOOC creation, I think I could be justified in thinking of this as work – at least in part.

Photo taken from ELTpics by @ChrisCattaneo, used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

I haven’t done many MOOCs because I’m the kind of learner who, if they know they’re about to embark on a structured type of training, wants to do more or less everything the course designer has planned for them, trusting that there must have been sound reasons the course was designed in a particular way. And if I know I’m not going to have enough time to do it properly, I’d rather not even start – I’m still disappointed, for instance, that I wasn’t able to keep up with the TESOL EVO course Teaching Listening: Principles, techniques and technologies earlier this year. The couple of MOOCs I *have* completed I felt I got quite a bit out of – I blogged about the one on corpus linguistics and the one on how to get started with Moodle (tangentially) – so overall my experience with this type of course has been positive.

About two weeks ago I started on Introduction to Linguistics on Futurelearn. The choice of topic was prompted by the idea that I should be vaguely familiar with the content so that I could better focus on how the course was set up and see if I could pick up any tips in terms of course design that I could apply at work.

It was clear that the course had already started by the time I joined, but I couldn’t find info on when that was. Perhaps I’m not being entirely fair; maybe the start date was visible before I joined but subsequently I was unable to find it. My assumption was that it couldn’t have been too long before because otherwise they wouldn’t have kept letting people join.

A few days into the course I came across this interesting EdSurge article on Twitter: A Proposal to Put the ‘M’ Back in MOOCs and with a somewhat sinking feeling read the opening sentence:

MOOCs have evolved over the past five years from a virtual version of a classroom course to an experience that feels more like a Netflix library of teaching videos.

The fact is, since joining I felt a bit like I was wandering through a deserted building (a school, why not), hence the title. The content is predominantly videos. Discussions accompanying each video seemed to be long over, even though people were still posting sporadically, but I feel it’s unlikely they’ll ever get a response from another participant. I feel even more certain they won’t be getting a response from the online mentor (Lead Educator in Futurlearnese) because the course is officially over – although it doesn’t actually say so anywhere.

There is a prominent message every time I log on that the course content will remain available until a certain date, after which I’ll only be able to access it if I upgrade. However, I’m not sure that ensuring access to videos and discussions of other people is tempting enough for me to upgrade. Granted, I can’t guarantee that I would upgrade even if I had started on the course along with everyone else and taken part in the discussions, but that way I would have at least felt partial ownership. This way I feel like I’m entering empty classrooms, leafing through books left on the shelves and occasionally sensing someone else is in the building – not a feeling I would pay to sustain.

My plan was to keep a record of any interesting design features I come across on the course; then it occured to me I could write these up in a post. But as has been known to happen when I haven’t blogged in a while – which is, now I think of it, my customary blogging state – the introduction has turned into a post of its own, so I’ll leave the design observations for another post.

Have you done any MOOCs lately? What was your experience like – have you noticed any differences compared to MOOCs a couple of years ago? I’m especially curious about iTDi courses, which I keep hearing good things about.


By ven_vve

ELT, elearning, higher ed, teacher training, translation. Partial to the island of Vis since the pre-tourist era.

11 replies on “Wandering down empty hallways”

Hi Vedrana,

I always feel an extreme passion or extreme boredom in the student interaction parts of MOOCs. I don’t think there’s enough differentiation so beginners end up asking basic questions, frustrating the intermediate and advanced students, or else it is, like you say, wandering empty hallways, the echoes clear as day. That’s when I end up quitting.

Also bring in Asia, I usually end up being online almost completely alone.

Nice post, and I know I would be nervous designing any more than 20% online content.

Liked by 2 people

I was kind of surprised this time to see that some of the participants were critical (in the discussion spaces) of the content that was delivered in the sense that they seemed to think it wasn’t entirely accurate. I mean, it’s always a good idea to remain alert to any discrepancies or illogicalities that may have slipped through, but this is an introductory course – I think the content should pretty much be uncontroversial. Some comments sounded as if the commenters thought the researchers whose work was presented didn’t really know what they were doing – or at least that was how I read them. I don’t think the commenters were linguistics researchers. Anyway, I seem to remember discussions on #CorpusMOOC being far more supportive and constructive, although that may be selective memory at work. Could also have been because of several moderators around.

Liked by 1 person

Hi Vedrana

Thank you for the post, and the link to the article: an interesting idea about MOOC Semester.

I took FutureLearn courses before: the latest was ‘Becoming a Better Teacher’ last Fall, and I really enjoyed being a part of the discussions: great comments from peers and mentors, good questions asked and answered. I meant to blog about it but never did. Yes, the levels of participants varied (some were more ‘beginner’ in the topic, and some were more advanced) I like the option to ‘follow’ certain contributors, for example. I joined the course at the start though and I think I did most of the work. Don’t remember if I officially ‘completed’ it though. I remember it being very responsive to what was going in, and weekly feedback (summary, a video or a message) was relevant and meaningful. That was my experience. The other 2 courses with FutureLearn were Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance (2016) and English in Early Childhood (2017). Both are still open for access, but to be honest, I did not check the content after the courses were over.

I am thinking to join ITDI’s Self-publishing for ELT Professionals in September, if the timing works. It will be my first experience with them (have done CourseEra and Udemy courses in the past)

Loved the metaphor of ’empty hallways’ 🙂 Looking forward to more of your posts on the topic!

Liked by 1 person

Thanks for the comment, Zhenya! Yes, the option of following contributors is pretty neat, isn’t it? I like that you can like posts too, thus bumping them up if you sort by most liked. A lot of the time the most recent comments aren’t necessarily the most interesting ones, especially if you join late. When you say you remember the course being very responsive, do you mean the moderators?
Good luck with the self-publishing course – would be great to read about it. And do it, of course, but I’m not sure September will work for me.


Thank you for the reply Vedrana! Yes, by ‘responsive’ I meant the replies from the mentors (and other peers) and modified weekly feedback summaries (written or video recorded) based on the week’s input and discussions. Some resources/links were offered, too, as I recall.


Liked by 1 person

Hi Vedrana,
I would have loved to take part in the EVO Teaching Listening course but I had no time. Like you, I really want to do things properly and I can never be sure it will be possible during the school year. I still want to take the iTDi course with Dorothy Zemach in September but I don’t have a draft material yet so I’ll see. I’d love to write something for learners of Czech but I can’t expect to get feedback on it in the course, obviously:-) Otherwise, I take inspiration from other areas – fitness, mainly. I recently disovered the yoga goddess Sadie Nardini and her courses are so great and just what I need right now. She is amazingly inspiring as a teacher and really recommend following her. I also liked a Domino Chinese course on Udemy, because the teacher was positive and challenging and made me laugh. But as for the language teaching world, no, I don’t really take courses. I prefer reading books and blogs. Thanks for a lovely summery read!

Liked by 2 people

Hi Kamila,
Do you follow Sadie on YouTube? I’ve heard a lot of good things about yoga but haven’t given it a try yet. I hadn’t heard of Domino Chinese before either – a quick look at their website was very interesting. I guess the Udemy course was free? They seem to charge if you sign up via the DC website, but I think they’re not too expensive. I thought it was especially interesting that Felix isn’t NS (of Chinese) and one of the FAQ answers reassures prospective students that the Chinese think he’s a native speaker, so they don’t need to worry about picking up the wrong accent.
On an unrelated note, I enjoyed listening to the TDSIG podcast this morning. It was great to hear the voices – most of them for the first time – of so many familiar people. I think I’d only heard Matthew before. I’ll have to think about my catalytic concept a bit – I think there have probably been a few over time.
Thanks very much for the comment!

Liked by 1 person

I bought two Sadie’s courses on Daily Om – found totally by coincidence when an ad popped up on facebook. I’m not a yoga person either – I mean I like the moves because I’m pretty flexible and like to stretch but not very strong so I need to focus on building muscles and any regular exercise is too strenuous while Sadie’s work outs seem to be just fine for me. I love the way she counts: “let’s do five more… and one more for good luck:-)” My students are going to hear that a lot now. I really liked Felix as a teacher. The course on Udemy was about 10EUR which was fine. I stopped going to classes by now but I can recommend his course – and I am very fussy, being a teacher myself.
Thanks for listening to the podcast! I know Matthew’s voice from his vlogs. It’s really nice to hear everyone else’s.

Liked by 2 people

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