Reviewed June 2014
Jessica Evans Brady, Visual & Performing Arts Librarian
Strozier Library, Florida State University

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) can serve as excellent professional development tools. Covering a wide range of topics—and often free—MOOCs provide participants the opportunity to build knowledge and learn new skills within a flexible structure without requiring a budget, travel, or significant changes to one’s work schedule.

Social_Media_MOOC_1The recently offered MOOC Social Media for Active Learning taught by Vanessa Dennen, Associate Professor of Instructional Systems at Florida State University, provided valuable content for those interested in social media and education. The four-week course was organized into four modules covering tools and strategies for social media curation, using social media in lesson plans, building one’s personal learning network for information sharing, and privacy and ethical considerations. Each module was designed to function independently so that students could choose to participate selectively depending on their interests and availability. Each module included a webinar, brief video lectures, readings, a self-check quiz, a project, and a discussion board with question prompts. All of these components were optional, allowing for a range of participation from individually selected items to a full checklist required to earn a certificate of completion. The core audience for this class included instructors, trainers, and instructional designers. While there are currently no future dates scheduled when this course will run again, the course material will be made accessible for self-paced learning.

Social_Media_MOOC_2For this reviewer, there were a number of tools that contributed to making this course successful. The course was hosted on Blackboard CourseSites, a well-organized and easy to use platform requiring a free account. Blackboard Collaborate was used for live webinars, with recordings available for asynchronous viewing. The live webinars offered a more personal connection with the opportunity for feedback in real time; they served as a good introduction to the topic and attendant material and provided context for the week’s self-directed course of study. In addition, a weekly series of videos were recorded by the instructor, hosted on YouTube, and embedded in CourseSites. Short videos broken into subtopics communicated meaningful content while capturing the viewer’s attention. Discussion boards allowed for reflection and information sharing among participants. However, the high level of traffic driven by the large numbers of students enrolled in a MOOC can easily become overwhelming.

Taking a MOOC is not without challenges. Facing the common issue of low completion rates by students enrolled in MOOCs, I found it challenging to maintain a high level of active participation in order to complete the course. That said, I found the flexible structure to be key in allowing me to adapt the course to my busy schedule and focus on the most relevant content. Another challenge was adapting to the scale of a class with hundreds of participants; it is not possible to follow all the discussions or get much individual attention from an instructor. However, I benefited from having access to knowledge experts and peers from around the world, from a wide variety of fields, who offered perspectives that were different from those I encounter in my usual spheres of interaction. In addition, a MOOC can move beyond a typical professional development webinar to offer more self-directed learning with a variety of resources for further study in a range of formats to suit different learning styles.

The CourseSites Catalog lists MOOCs covering topics in the areas of Education, Instructional Technology, and Information Science, to name a few.  Other popular MOOC providers include CourseraedX, and Udacity. Upcoming courses that may be of interest to ARLIS/NA members include e-Learning EcologiesMetadata: Organizing and Evaluating Information, and Art & Activity: Interactive Strategies for Engaging with Art.