For a change, I’m posting from the student side of the fence, rather than the teacher! I think most people reading this know I’m an OU student, but this relates to something else I’m doing – it’s one of edX‘s courses.
Let me say first – these providers of free, online courses are fantastic. As well as edX, there’s also Coursera, and I think there may be others. They offer versions of courses from top US universities (MIT, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley…) with online lectures, course notes, assignments, exams and forums. They’re a really excellent opportunity, and how often do you get something for free?
But – I have been so dismayed by some of the other students on there! This is a not-for-credit course (i.e. you don’t gain anything specific, other than satisfaction, from passing it). So, you’d expect you wouldn’t do it unless you wanted to understand the subject, wouldn’t you? Er, no! People are asking for answers to homework. They are wanting to be told exactly which formula to use when. They whinge that each homework problem doesn’t say “look at lecture x subsection y to answer this”. They can’t be bothered to read materials more than once or to look through the lecture again. Questions get asked twenty times over despite the fact the answer’s already been put on the forum several times, or is in the info that you see as soon as you log in. They expect someone else to check their work rather than checking it themselves. Quite simply, many of them do not want to think, or to try, and seem to believe that they’ve achieved something by gaining a high mark, even if they understood nothing about what they were doing.
And they moan. My god, do they moan! “there’s too much maths” or “why can’t we have unlimited attempts on the multiple choice before it’s graded” or “it’s not fair this answer’s different to the one I got by googling” (translation – I tried to cheat rather than think for myself) or “the English is too complex” (translation – I didn’t read the question).
I keep wanting to scream – “It’s free! It’s an MIT course, of course it’s meant to make you think! And the world won’t explode if you get a question wrong! Get a grip!” But I don’t. Compulsive teacher that I am, I’ve been trying to answer their questions on the forums (as have a few other brave souls). I’ve just posted a great big piece of gratuitous advice on how to learn and how to make the most of the course. (I suspect it will get me a load of abuse).
For the online course, I think I’d consider removing the summative assessment – at least the homework part. If people weren’t so focused on wanting 100% in their homework, maybe they’d be less inclined to look for simple answers? And – back to teaching again – I often think that giving a piece of work a grade can be counter-productive for exactly that reason, as pupils think they’ve learnt something and understand it all because they’ve achieved that A grade, and selectively forget how they actually got there. If we could figure out how to get any learner to ask themselves “do I really understand that” rather than “have I got a good grade on that work”, it would be a fantastic achievement. Sure, it’s helpful to have ways to help you judge whether you understand things, but how to strike the balance between wanting everyone to try their best to do well, and making them mark-focused?
Mind you – look on the bright side. A lot of these students on the edX course have made me appreciate my own, who despite being rather younger, are – for the most part – rather less daft!