The Udacity Partnership

Earlier today the UofA signed a MOU (memorandum of understanding) with Udacity to develop a research partnership about MOOCs (massive open online courses). In a MOOC, the entire course is done online, for free. You may or may not get some kind of credit for participating and completing it; you may have to pay for a certificate. So far, you can't use these MOOCs for credit towards an actual degree.

This morning at 10:00, a group of instructors, researchers, and administrators met with Sebastian Thrun, who cofounded Udacity. (Yes, this is one of the "secret projects" I'm currently involved in. Now it's not a secret anymore.) Thrun, who gave a talk about MOOCs on campus last month, showed us his content creation system, which runs as an iPad app. Even in pre-alpha, it was pretty slick, allowing videos, sketches, and interactive quizzes to be put together to create a course, which can also be "consumed" via an i-device.

MOOCs raise many important questions about pedagogy (the "science of education"), instruction, interactivity, and the role of universities. We're thinking about those. But the reason I'm writing this post is to get the view of students on MOOCs.

What do you think about free, online courses? Would you take one? Why? What would you want to get from it? Would it help your mom learn about psychology (or whatever your major is)? Or for your younger sister in high school, who hasn't decided what topic to study in post-secondary education (much less her future career)? Would you take it to supplement what you're learning in your in-person, for-credit class? Or would you want to get your whole degree online, instead of going to meat-space classes? (Hmm, isn't that already available?)

Why aren't you studying?

The Open Comments: 5

With midterms done/coming up or whatever your case may be (in my case, always both), it's time again to open it up for any comments you have.

Questions? Concerns? Can't hear me in the back? Don't wait until the end of term evaluations to tell me. I know I've been a bit low energy recently--this darn gastroenteritis. Ooh, that reminds me: it's time for my annual flu shot again. Are you going to get one? I don't know about you, friend, but I don't want to be laid up in bed during finals.

Why aren't you studying?

The Changes

So far, 2012 has been a year stuffed full of changes. My wife moved her practice to a different clinic. My oldest daughter switched to a different school. We have a new neighbour. Our basement is in the process of being developed. (You never realize how much stuff is in your basement until you have to move it all into the garage.) My sister-in-law got a new dog. (OK, so maybe that last one isn’t a big impact on my life.)

At work, too, there have been more changes this year than in the last decade. The Department of Psychology General Office has seen a major changeover in admin staff. (See The Cuts for more.)

I’ve had to adapt to some pretty major changes in my teaching schedule, too. Each Department makes up a “master schedule” of all classes, which includes information on who’s teaching what course, when each courses is being taught (term and time of day), and in which classrooms. Starting this year, some longer-range planning has been implemented. Now, people within each “area” of specialization in the Department of Psychology have to agree on who is going to teach which courses for the next 2 years. In principle, this is good planning. Unfortunately for me, as a teaching-focused Faculty Lecturer, my courses fall into three different areas: Cognition (PSYCO 258 and 494), Behaviour, Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience (PSYCO 267 and 365), and Comparative Cognition and Behaviour (PSYCO--whoops, that hasn’t been announced yet).

So far, not so bad. But there has also been a change in policy about when classes are offered. An analysis showed that most PSYCO courses were being offered between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., and most of them were on Tues/Thurs (“TR”), making it hard for psychology majors to register for all of the classes they needed to complete their degrees. As a result, a new policy was introduced, requiring 200-level courses to be 50-minute classes offered on Mon/Wed/Fri (“MWF”), 300-level courses on TR (meaning 80-minute classes), and 400-level courses to be on MWF (again, 50-minute classes).

This term, all of my courses were flipped. My PSYCO 104 was moved from MWF to TR; I haven’t taught it as an 80-minute class since 1997. I’ve designed, tweaked, and adjusted it to be a 50-minute class for 15 years, and now had to change it--syllabus, lectures, exams--to fit into 80 minutes. In addition, my usual 80-minute classes--PSYCO 267 and 494--changed to 50-minute ones. I’ve never once taught 267 as a 50-minute class, and the last time I taught 494 in 50 minutes was 2004. I’ve never been so busy prepping “old” classes before.

Lastly, even where classes are being held has changed for me this year. This term, one of my classes is scheduled in my least favourite room, and the others are slotted in rooms that are just slightly too big. Here’s the problem: If the room holds 413 people, and enrollment is capped at 390, there will be empty seats. Students come to class and see a certain number of empty seats every time, and go, “Huh. Not everybody is showing up to class. Why should I?” As a result, attendance drops steadily during the term. This general effect is called “social proof” (HT: Jennifer Passey). So I’ve actually asked for enrollment in most of my classes to be maxed out to room capacity. Bigger isn’t always better.

On top of all these changes, and the extra work they entail, I’ve also got to work on a new prep (academic lingo for “new course”). But that’s another post.

Why aren’t you studying?

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