An Element of Fun: A First Look at the Open2Study MOOC Platform
As MOOCs have spread their wings over the World Wide Web, inevitably academic institutions around the globe have taken notice and prepared their own take on asynchronous, distance-learning web course. Being on the hunt for quality MOOCs for a year now, I traveled virtually to the land “down under” and let me assure you, dear reader, the Aussies are on to something with Open2Study.
First let me say a couple quick words about the two courses I took before explaining more about how Open2Study platform works and about the gamification techniques it emphasizes.
I was tricked into believing the Anthropology MOOC Becoming Human, the only humanities course on the schedule, would be a walk in the park; I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the start of Module 1 the definitions and jargon took me by surprise; this was a tough one! Professor Greg Downey, affiliated with Macquarie University, participated actively in the forums as well as on Twitter. The course featured an analysis of Darwin’s research, human reproduction and the evolution of our species. He incorporated really artistic drawings and mind maps, which is actually a common medium of Open2Study lectures. One fun element in this class was the simulator that allowed us to try out the various stages of evolution of mankind, depending on factors like climate change, bipedalism, etc.
Writing for the Web was a very different kind of MOOC in my experience. First of all, it was really short and it felt like it. The information received was ideal for someone who wanted to establish a webpage immediately or check his or her own for mishaps. It was unbelievably practical, concise and business orientated. Quizzes were relatively easy; the instructor, Frankie Madden, speaks from an accomplished web designer’s viewpoint, so there no endless theoretical debate in this one.
Presenting an alternative to the American MOOC requires a bit of differentiation. No one would want ten Coursera copycats lining up. I do believe, therefore, the Australian initiative encompasses originality.
Fellow contributor to this site Sylvia Moessinger has already described the main gist of Open2Study, but let me recap some of the basic differences from the “traditional” American model. (Can you believe that we are actually talking about traditional MOOCs now?)
Open2Study features four-week classes covering the basics of each subject. Note the word basics here: they are strongly suggesting that their courses are indeed a mere introduction. I found the statement “this certificate isn’t a formal qualification from your educator” rather honest since four weeks is hardly time enough to delve into undergraduate level work. You should rather treat these four weeks as a chance to engage in a new subject and perhaps discover a hidden passion or future field of expertise.
That said, not all course instructors are affiliated with universities. Judging by the array of subjects, they are emphasizing practical skills. Economics, marketing and courses like “Introduction to Business in Asia” may give you a hint about their coverage. You won’t find literature and philosophy for now. Playing it smart, they also recommend future academic options, both undergraduate and graduate, concerning the course you are enrolled in.
Each weekly module includes seven to ten short lectures, each one followed up with a single question to check comprehension. The week’s module ends with a quiz of five slightly more complex questions. Every video segment included the transcript underneath to aid understanding, especially for non-native English speakers. The video segment rarely exceeds ten minutes, so you should end up with 1.5 -2 hours of work per module.
The most recent change lifted the weekly deadline and lets participants take the quiz whenever they wish within the course schedule. (Aww what a pity; they even had a timer, counting backwards. But procrastinators approve.) This means the entire “four-week” module can be complete in a single day.
Another refreshing difference from other MOOC platforms is that smaller forums are placed directly underneath each video presentation. Students are therefore not lost in an ocean of posts; they have the option to either ask or answer a peer question or simply comment the video at hand, right then and there.
Extra readings open in a separate tab on the same web page, hence preventing you from needing to open ten browser tabs for a single course. Been there. Trust me.
Gamifying a MOOC
For those of you who are not familiar with the term, gamification constitutes taking the fun elements from games and putting them to good use in other areas. Open2Study uses several common gamification techniques, including a few clever surprises that I won’t spoil. (Wait until you accidentally navigate to a missing page or follow a broken link.) Here are some of the other game elements you’ll find.
It used to be that 10-year-olds asked for stickers on their homework; alas, times, they are a changing, as the song goes. Mozilla.org introduced this digital novelty, where you basically earn a cool little picture that stands as a symbol for an achievement. You get to keep this badge – forever and ever – in your “backpack,” a web space especially created for this purpose, just like a digital trophy case. Open2Study features such a virtual badge display in your profile.
In this case, the first badge is handed out unexpectedly, which is where all the fun comes from. After that you get some coaching on how to unlock more badges, but I advise readers not to worry about that. Just let it flow.
I actually implement some knowledge gained from an Open2Study course for this discussion. The overall design is extremely successful. That soft green is eye pleasing and red notifications pop up only to alert if something is genuinely of notice. The forum structure, the placement of progress bars (“player feedback” in gamification terms) right next to the videos and the minimalistic look of the “study center” are all effective.
Apart from having a sidebar next to the videos showing your progress, you receive an audiovisual feedback after each segment, in case you have answered correctly. That actually boosts self-confidence and is highly motivating for the entire learning process. If not, there is the option of an audiovisual hint, again scaffolding the route to success. However, let it be noted that during the final assessment – after each module – you only get three tries but hardly any feedback, apart from a general score. I think they should consideration giving feedback, at least after the last attempt, to ensure understanding.
To sum up, I highly recommend enrolling in Open2Study MOOCs, especially if you are a busy person or simply interested in the basics of online education. Web marketing enthusiasts will definitely benefit from an introduction to basic concepts, and lifelong learners might end up discovering a research field to pursue during the four week classes. And remember . . . .