I just finished participating in my first ever on-line course, a MOOC, basically, from Stanford, on "Digging Deeper: Making Manuscripts." There's a second part, and I've signed up for that, too. And it's FREE! (The next beings April 21. Be there or be sad!)
The first course was six weeks; each week the organizers uploaded stuff onto the course platform on Tuesday morning, and we had a week to work on it before the next part got uploaded. I probably spent about two to two and a half hours each week on the course. About two thirds of that time, maybe, was watching/listening to the short videos or reading materials, and then another third was working on the "practical paleography" part which was practice in transcribing medieval manuscript texts. (My lack of Latin really slowed me down on some, no doubt, because when we did a Middle English one, it seemed so much easier.)
For each week, there's be a short, one paragraph introduction to the week, and then you'd click forward, and do part one of maybe five or six parts for the week. Each part would have a video of a few minutes, which might have someone talking, and showing pictures of a text or textual materials. You could make the video run a little faster if you wanted (I went with 1.25X speed) and there was a running transcript so you could read as you listened and watched. (I thought those two features were quite helpful.) Then after the video, you often could scroll down and you'd be able to look at big pictures of the manuscript or materials in question, which was really great. So you'd look, and then when you were ready, you'd click through, and go to a little quiz of 2-4 questions, multiple choice with buttons, mostly. (A few you typed in a number.) The quizzes mostly picked up on vocabulary from the video. For me, the most difficult part of the quizzes was remembering to hit the "submit" button rather than just scrolling to the next question. [And at this point you can tell just how obsessive I am about grade stuff even when it doesn't matter because I was frustrated with myself when I finally figured out that I hadn't hit submit a bunch of times and so "lost points."]
And then you'd hit a manicule (pointy finger graphic) and go on to the next part.
At the end of the video type parts for each week, there was a "practicum" section which would ask you questions about parts of a manuscript or such, and basically quiz you a little more deeply on what you'd learned across the videos for that week in full.
And then finally, each week had a "practical paleography" section which would set out a small bit of manuscript and some directions about abbreviations and such, and you'd transcribe it and hit submit, and then you could see what the professionals did with their transcription.
There was a lot to like about this course. I had fun, and exercised my brain a tiny bit. But it wasn't a college course, and I didn't learn in any week what I think my students usually learn in a week or even, say, two hours of classwork. On the other hand, I didn't put in the time I expect my students to put in preparing, reading, and working on stuff for most of my courses. I didn't get college credit, either, but supposedly if I finish the course with a certain percentage, I'll get a "Stanford Statement of Accomplishment." I'm guessing they'll email me a pdf or something, and I may just put it on my wall to laugh about. The most I've ever gotten out of Stanford before is a couple of pleasurable hours in a library, chatting with David Riggs who I ran into quite by accident. (I certainly wasn't Stanford material as an undergrad, and frankly never thought that any actual mortals studied there. No one I knew growing up had gone anywhere like Stanford.)
I think six weeks is a good time to set. It's enough to get into it a bit, to enjoy knowing it's coming up, and to learn some stuff. But it's not a daunting time where you'd worry about being gone and missing a huge chunk of stuff.
The organizers clearly did a fine job organizing. Things were mostly clear and made sense, and they did an excellent job producing the videos, showing pictures of manuscripts and materials. I think about the second week, they responded to people having difficulty with transcriptions by adding hints about abbreviations and a modern translation. I found those useful.
I didn't find the forums useful; they were overwhelmingly huge to me, and I didn't tend to read many postings by other people. That was fine for this course; there was no requirement that you read a lot of postings by others, nor were there papers due that we had to edit or anything like that.
All in all then, I enjoyed the course. It was enough of a challenge to keep me interested, and familiar enough that I could find my way (except for my lack of Latin, to my shame).
But it wasn't a college course. It was more of a community enrichment course. And that's fine as what it is.
My next question, though, is why? Yes, I feel more positive about Stanford than I otherwise would, and here I am, mentioning it in my blog. But that and five dollars will get you a small coffee at *$.
From the production of the videos, showing digital images from Cambridge and Stanford libraries, and faculty time and expertise to put it all together, I'm guessing this course cost Stanford thousands of dollars. Are they basically trying out on-line learning platforms in low stakes environments where people will be forgiving? Are they hoping we'll love it enough to pay for courses for credit?