The Stanford AI course

I chose to research the Stanford Artificial Intelligence course as this was a prestigious university offering a course to anyone interested in artificial intelligence.  In addition, the course was being taught by 2 renowned instructors in artificial intelligence.  In reading about the course I was most impressed with the level of participation.  The course attracted students from high school all the way up to retirees.  In total,  160,00 people enrolled in the course from more than 175 different countries.  The AI class was synchronous, where all students joined at the same time and worked on the same weekly topics.  In doing this the discussions/forums more closely aligned with a typical classroom environment.  The students watched a series of online videos and took online quizzes along with a midterm and final.  The videos consisted of the professor writing on a white piece of paper explaining concepts as if you were being tutored personally.   Students were not given a course grade but could obtain a Certificate of Completion.

After reading the first article about MOOCs I wondered how I would feel about being part of such an enormous “class”.  I can remember in college how some of my least favorite courses were held in a large lecture hall setting.  They felt so impersonal.  There seemed to be very little dialogue between the instructor and the students.  Even though this course had a very large student body, the students were able to interact with one another across many different discussion forums.  You had industry experts explaining concepts to classmates. There were common questions that were addressed by the instructors.  Most of the question and answer dialogue came from participants themselves.  The synchronous course structure is paired with tremendous dialogue between students.  In reading about transactional distance theory, this course appeared to have an ideal balance between structure and dialogue.  In the end, only 14% of students earned a Certificate of Completion.  The instructors were not disappointed however as the ultimate goal of the program was to bring education to places in the world with great educational needs.  This course focused much of the learning on the problem solving, discussion, etc., that was accomplished through dialogue with one another, and on a global scale, rather than feedback coming from the course instructor only. I can see where this type of MOOC has the potential to expand education exponentially.

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Transactional Distance Theory

Several thoughts crossed my mind as I read the articles on transactional distance.  As an instructor in a lab-based science course I have not thought much about the dialogue aspect of the online components I have my students use.  Most of the dialogue that we have takes place in the classroom during class.  I’m not quite sure how I would account for the type of dialogue that we have in an online format.

During the past 2 years I taught a hybrid Nanoscience program through the mathscience innovation center.  Many of the the lessons were taught virtually using a Adobe Connect platform and there were face-to-face sessions as well.  During the online lessons that I taught I had a very difficult time getting adult students to interact and dialogue.  They had the option of speaking to the class directly or typing a question or response.  It appeared to me that unless dialogue was a required component of the class the students did not voluntarily dialogue with each other or the instructor.  There was much more discussion during the face-to-face sessions.  Could this be a generational issue as these were adults who had learned primarily through a traditional classroom setting?

Lastly, as a student I would want to interact with others in my class.  I like to ask questions of others in my field or bounce ideas back and forth.  In designing an online class I think that it would be necessary for the course to have structure so that the curriculum flows (that’s the left brained part of me!) but there would also need to be an application of content where the student demonstrates an understanding of the material through some sort of written dialogue, narrated video, etc.  As with any type of instruction there needs to be accountability on both sides- students demonstrate understanding and teacher feedback.

Lynn Novak

I’m Lynn Novak and I am a Chemistry teacher at PHS.  This is my 29th year of teaching which I find hard to believe.  In recent years I have had some experience with online education, both as a student and as an instructor.  As an adjunct instructor with the MathScience Innovation Center I was involved with a hybrid program where students worked in a virtual environment as well as face to face.  As a student, I have found that online courses were suitable when the course was centered on content, discussion of best practices, and other course requirements that did not have a hands-on component. The online format has provided me with access to courses that I might not otherwise have pursued.  As the mother of two very busy teenagers and the caregiver to my husband with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) I don’t have much “free time”.  When I do have a few spare moments I love to work in my yard, read, walk with my dog and travel to the mountains or the beach.  One day I will hopefully return to other past times that I  so enjoy.

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At the beach with my children and niece.  Sunset – my favorite time of day!

As I read the chapter this week I thought about the challenges we face in delivering instruction online.  The beginning of the chapter reminded me of the challenges that were faced when remote learning, via satellite, was first implemented.  How does our personality as instructor or student become evident in an online format?  How do we engage students?  The use of blogs, discussion boards, or other interactive resources certainly help to engage students and make them feel as though they are part of a larger learning community.  These forums are one way to create teacher presence and to lessen the feeling of isolation on the part of the student.  Online courses do allow for a larger learning community as accessibility is increased.  The issue for me with self regulated learning is maturity and motivation required on the part of the learner.  Three dimensional environments, such as those in Minecraft, are certainly engaging but learning isn’t always glamorous.  The need to Tweet or Facebook poke students to remind them to complete assignments seems as though the burden is placed on the instructor.  Prior to this course I did not have a Twitter account and hope to learn more about how to harness its power.   I have blogged before but I tend to be a person of few words as I am a very private person and am not inclined to write down my every thought.  I am looking forward to learning more about 21st century technology and its use in my classroom.