I restarted this blog in anticipation of a Coursera class “E-Learning and Digital Cultures” which starts next Monday. A few weeks ago I started my first MOOC outside the Coursera umbrella, “Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead” from Canvas Network and I want to make a few observations about the two systems.
The first distinction is that where all of Coursera’s classes are (so far) free and the best you can get from taking their classes is a Certificate of Completion (you can get a Verified Certificate for some classes for about $80). With Canvas Network some classes have tuition costs and for some you can earn credit for. Some only offer Continuing Education Credits, others do offer full college credit but require a proctored exam, both cost extra.
Both systems offer a mix of job related classes and what I call real education, language arts, mathematics, and the humanities, classes that teach you to think and learn, more than simply how to earn a paycheck.
Since this is my first Canvas class I can’t say anything about their overall quality. I can say that although this class could easily be written off as fluff based only on its name so far it has been quite good. It is a multidisciplinary class using the television series “The Walking Dead” as a cultural touchstone. It is not necessary to watch the show but it gives those of us who do, this includes the professors, a shared frame of reference for discussions.
Much of the learning in any class, online and in a brick and mortar classroom, takes place during discussions. The discussion boards on both sites could be improved but the one on Canvas is bad. It was bad when it was designed. Which I imagine was a decade ago from its look and feel. They should look the discussion boards on LibraryThing.com for inspiration. Those boards are easy to navigate, buttons to go back to the top or down to new posts make long threads usable. Numbered posts that identify the author make it easy to carry on a conversation even when someone else’s post separates your comment from the original.
I am glad to see that Canvas offers MOOC’s that reward the student with credit even if it is at a price. Without income these sites will disappear and without a tangible reward most people are not going to pay.