MOOC Mania!

Like the rest of the world, I'm curious about MOOCs. Do I have time to take a MOOC right now? No.

So I emailed our Match Corps to see if any of them wanted to take a MOOC, and then tell me what it was like.

I wrote:

Hi folks,

There's a free ONLINE course in Spanish 1 that launches in January. Runs for 4 months. 6 hours per week.

Seems to be professionally staffed (comes from Columbia University).

It's a MOOC. That's cool. That's new. "Massive online open-enrollment course."

1. If your new years resolution was to learn Spanish, this might be a good way.

2. If you want to take this class, please let me know! I'd just like to follow your experience, good or bad, and learn about +/- of big online courses like these.

Several tutors emailed back: yes. So they signed up.

Mike Broida, a Kenyon College grad who tutors at our elementary school, is keeping me in the loop on his experience. So far, generally positive. I'm reprinting with his permission. Mike B writes:

Here are my initial impressions about Spanish MOOC:

1. The interface is kinda like playing a learning-centered video game (reminds me a lot of Math Blaster or Jump Start 3rd Grade). Every exercise so far is watching a Youtube video in Spanish and filling in blanks (either the right word in Spanish or what a Spanish word means in English). To be honest, it got a little tedious by the end, but perhaps that was just because I am new to using it and still trying to figure it out

2. The class is, understandably, focused on hard skills as opposed to all my Liberal Arts college classes that focused on soft skills like writing persuasively, thinking critically, etc. The sole goal of this course is for the participants to demonstrate college-level introductory ability in Spanish any way they can. The instructor refers to it as a "learner-centric model"

3. The course uses two websites--one is, which is like a syllabus. The other is instreamia, which houses all the exercises. It's supposed to be adaptive to your ability--so each exercise varies depending on how you've done on previous exercises.

4. The exercises are a little buggy and rely on automatic translations for words. In a video, a word such as sueño will give about six definitions, the first being "air castle" or something similarly nonsensical. It makes me dubious about the veracity of new vocabulary.

5. The first lesson was on learning pronunciation and verb conjugation.

6. The first assignment was to write five sentences about myself and to record them/upload them to the website.

7. I have been learning Spanish though! I'm glad I already had a bit of a foundation coming into it.

It was great to see you around MCD recently! I would have introduced myself but you seemed to be pretty busy with your guests. I was the guy running around in a bowtie.

I asked Mike B to compare it to a "Regular" foreign language class. He wrote:

I was not much of a language guy in high school or college (where I took Latin), so I don't have any strong feelings related to this MOOC class compared to my previous ones. I will say that I really appreciate that the class dives right into Spanish media/music. It feels much more genuine than the really silly and staged tapes/video I used to use in French class a long long time ago in high school.

It feels very little like I'm being instructed or guided in how to speak Spanish, but more so that I'm using a tool to teach myself. In my actual (traditional) language classes it felt that my growth was heavily based on my relationship with the instructor, fostering my growth (or non-growth) in the language. This time around it seems much more dependent on my ability to figure out the website/tools and my determination to absorb something.

It is very easy to breeze through the lessons without absorbing much, but I suppose I was often that way in high school French too, judging at my current (non existent) French capacity.

I'd invite anyone else taking this Spanish MOOC to add their thoughts in the comments section.

Turns out that Ann Sagan, a Match trustee, is also taking a MOOC just to see what it's like. She writes:

OK, two things from my first MOOC session (Energy 101 from Georgia Tech on Coursera):

1) by reading through the "introduce yourself" discussion, I see that there are people from all over the world taking this course (Bhutan!) and there are people who are hoping for some really deep discussions. Don't think this is gonna happen in Energy 101 but we will see.

2) The professor is an older southern guy and I know because of our shared experience of attending a southern university that you will really appreciate this last finding. He is a SLOW talker. HOWEVER, I discovered that if you play his video at 2X actual speed you can understand everything he says and get done in half the time. HA!