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The Mooc Experience

So, the MOOC is over. It has been a very interesting six week but I made it. I completed all the projects and I am now waiting for my completion certificate. So, what has this MOOC experience been like?

To recap, the MOOC I took was Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization, offered through the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, University of Texas at Austin, and taught by Alberto Cairo. I wanted to take a MOOC because it seems to be the thing right now. You can find almost every day an item about MOOCs in the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed. I tend to be skeptical of buzzwords. So, I thought, at the very least, and before passing final judgment in MOOCs, I should take at least one. And I did not want to take a sociology course because *yawn*. I thought I might as well try to learn something in the process of testing out the format. After all, I have already let it be known at my college that I wanted to develop MOOCs there.

So, I randomly bumped into a mention about the data visualization course on Twitter (who said Twitter was useless!) and decided to jump. This turned out to be the most interesting experience I have had in a while and it turned out to be the right decision. Since I had registered early for the course, I decided to read Alberto Cairo’s book, The Functional Art, to get a head start. So, by the time the course started, I was ready.

The Course

The course itself was 6-week long, structured week-by-week, increasing in difficulty and complexity as weeks passed. Because it was the first MOOC for the Knight Center, we could tell that a few course corrections were made along the way. Also, since the course was offered in-house (as opposed to through Coursera or Udacity), enrollment was limited to 2,000 students (small number for a MOOC).

Every week, we had some reading to do. All the materials were provided, we didn’t have to buy anything, books or software. We were also provided with video lectures by Alberto Cairo, based largely on his book, as a series of Youtube or Vimeo videos on the specific topic of the week. On weeks 1 and 2, we had to complete quizzes. Those were a bit of a joke, I have to say: 2 quizzes, 5 questions each, 30 minutes to complete. It is probably why those disappeared after week 2. I did not miss them.

In weeks 1 and 2, our work on data visualization was mostly critique. Alberto Cairo gave us infographics and we were supposed to analyze them and determine what worked, what did not, and what we would do to improve it. We were supposed to post our analysis on a message board, and then, post twice more to respond to other students’ analyses. The first week, there was only one message board and that was a mess. I posted early (I think I was second), then waited for other people that I could respond to. Very quickly, I was overwhelmed when the floodgates opened. Not only that but for the late posters, there really wasn’t much left to say about the original infographic. There is only so much critique that can be done. So, I posted my two other responses and left that first discussion board. There was just too much going on there.

The course organizers must have realized that as well because by Week 2, they had created 10 message boards and we could pick whichever we wanted. I picked #10 and stuck with it. I was not the only one because I saw the same names cropping up again week after week (Board 10 FTW!). We are a gregarious species. Apart from that, Week 2 went by pretty much as Week 1 had: readings, video lectures, quiz, infographic critique.