Experiencing Free/Open Source Courses

          We were asked to search and enroll in a free/open source course that we were interested in. The idea was for us to experience a type of online learning that is available. I spent quite a while searching for free/open source courses. A lot of them that I discovered were through universities (MIT, Yale, etc.). I decided to see what courses they were offering. None of the university courses were educationally related. They offered courses in business, science, math, history, philosophy, language, and sociology. I began to look into some courses for astronomy. One course I found was an introduction to general astronomy. The course features 10+ lectures from a professor. The lectures were recorded and shared via audio. There were no handouts and no videos included. Each lecture averaged an hour. I thought about taking part of this course but decided to look into something that dealt with teaching strategies.

                I found a site that was created just for open source courses, Open.edu. They have several categories of courses to choose from, including education. They have courses that you can take for graduate credit (usually 100+ hours of work) or courses that range from 15 minutes to several hours. To enroll for credit, you do need to create an account but it is free. After searching through their catalog of courses, I chose a course titled Using Visualization in Teaching Math.

                This course was broken down into eight parts: the introduction, learning outcomes, and activities. The introduction and learning outcomes portions required users to read. They were not very long but set up the user for what to expect during the course. The first activity provided links to several activities for teachers to use in their classroom that helped students visualize situations. Each activity had directions included for the teacher to use in their room. Most of the activities were for older students (upper elementary and older).  The next activity was a link to an article about using visualizations in the classroom. The article was fairly long and included some examples. The next activity was a self-assessment questionnaire with 10 questions about imagery and the classroom. Directions were typed and students were asked to write down their thoughts on each question. Students could then click a link to check their answers to the creators. The next activity featured a case study that included videos and transcripts. The videos were separated into the introduction, completion of the activity, and sharing of the findings. The videos were outdated (late 80s) and the students were high school age.  The videos did show communication and collaboration between students while the teacher walked from group to group. The students shared their liking of using visualization along with manipulation of objects during the lesson. The second to last part of the class featured more activities for teachers to use in their classrooms. Finally, the class ended with a list of reading material resources for teachers that included visualization.

                The design of the course was easy to navigate because it featured the contents on the left of the screen so the user could step away and come back to the part they left off at. There was a lot of reading included in the course and to be honest, it did not hold my attention. I found myself getting up and working on other things then coming back to work on the course. The videos helped but they were so outdated I was focusing more on the fashion style than the content! The sound was not the best quality either. Finding a course to take on the site was not difficult at all. I just needed to set my search criteria and look at the offerings. The courses list what type of media is included in the course (video, audio, transcripts, etc.) and they helps determine whether or not I wanted to try the course.

                This course was very much self-paced and required motivation. It differs from face-to-face learning in that I did not have an opportunity to communicate with the teacher or other students within the class. The only communication piece was to leave a comment about the course. There were handouts included but I could not ask questions about them or read any comments from the teacher about them (for example when or how they used them?).  The only assignment included was a self-assessment questionnaire.

                As for a rich learning experience, I think the course offers it through the activities. The experience will come after the teacher attempts the activities in their own classroom. They can see what works best for their students and what needs to be changed. Unfortunately there is no one involved in the course that they can communicate with about these activities and ideas to use in their room. It all has to be learned through application and experience.

                The education theories found within the course design were very limited. I think the course had more Bloom’s Taxonomy influence than Marzano’s strategies. There was not a lot of the language from these theories used in the course but through the activities and videos, a student could apply the Taxonomy and strategies. The activities were repetitive so it did not allow for a lot of variety in the theories.

                Some challenges to online learning in K-12 education are time management, motivation, communication/feedback, and finding the right course set-up for the learner. Online learning is mainly self-paced so the student needs to be good at time management (to get their lessons completed and turned in) as well as needing motivation to get their work done. Communication/feedback takes time through online courses so students need to know how to work while waiting. Finding the right course set-up is also a challenge because every learner is different. With me, I need more visuals and interactions than just reading to work at my highest level. Some students do better with reading and group work.

                Some benefits to online learning in K-12 education are flexibility, continuous access, more variety, and use of technology skills. Online courses can be taken anywhere as long as the user has access to the Internet. This also applies to continuous access as the user can access the course and its content at any time during the course timeframe. Online courses offer more variety in course offerings and students can take classes that traditional schools may never offer. Finally, online courses allow students to practice and improve their technology skills by using media, organizers, etc. within their assignments.

                Free/open source courses and online K-12 courses may not be for everyone. They are more prominent today as access to technology is more prevalent. If a person/student is thinking about taking online courses, they need to make sure the company/school they choose is right for them. They also need to consider how they learn and if self-paced learning is best for their learning.

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