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Massive Open Online Learning: Creativity and Competency

MOOCs have created a new avenue for professionals to gain new knowledge and continue their education on their own time. Photo by HaywireMedia.

In 1974, I took my first computer science course as a freshman. It was a disaster. My vague memories were of walking into the computer science department with huge stacks of vanilla colored punch cards, carrying my coding efforts. In those days, it was simple binary code, 1 or 0. The card was either punched or it wasn’t. I dropped the stack of 500 + cards at the front counter. Behind a very overworked graduate student, were humming, hot machines processing the stacks of cards for all the students at my university. Hours later, I would troop back to the center to pick up my cards, only to discover that there was an error to fix somewhere in that huge stack. I spent hours trying to fix my error. Meanwhile the classroom content roared ahead and I began to fall seriously behind. I finally dropped the class mid-semester.

All I know about computers and the Internet, I have taught myself over these many years. These things are fairly intuitive if you persist enough and are comfortable with a lot of trial and error.

When I got my M.S. degree in Instructional Design and Technology with an online course specialization a couple of years ago, I realized that there were gaps in my understanding both in how computers work these days and how the Internet is organized.

In comes, Coursera’s “Computer Science 101” with Dr. Nick Parlante. Coursera is a consortium of many universities collaborating to increase the reach of free online education to the world on a variety of topics. Dr. Parlante, a guest lecturer at Stanford, provided a truly fantastic course in computer science. While we learned the elements of JavaScript, networking, computer security, if logic, loops, variables, tables, digital images, storage, and software, it was all done in a very non-threatening way. One of the most useful things I learned in this class was that the very best programmers in the world make mistakes all day long in their code writing. Instead of calling them mistakes, they are called ‘bugs’. And they are fixed. That’s it.

This was a completely liberating notion for me. Just fix the bug and move on. Just because you can’t get it the first time does not mean you are destined to fail as a potential programmer. Dr. Parlante took the mystery out of all these topics, and not only made them understandable, but fun. We worked on a number of exercises manipulated digital media with JavaScript. I loved it. Who knew?

I finished the course with flying colors, received a letter of accomplishment from Stanford and have signed up for more coding courses now from Coursera and Codeacademy.

Coursera’s offerings are impressive and delivered by prestigious institutions and faculty. My fall schedule includes courses on gamification, python programming, networking and computational photography.

I was an early adapter to Coursera taking my first in 2011. Today, it has over a million registered users around the world. Clearly, they are doing something really right for the landscape of education and the world’s hunger for knowledge and competency.

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