Course Review – NovoEd’s Technology Entrepreneurship I MOOC
NovoEd’s Technology Entrepreneurship I MOOC was actually the second class covering principles of entrepreneurship I’ve finished this year, the first being Steve Blank’s How to Build a Startup — a traditional Udacity-style MOOC featuring short videos and lots of assessment items, all delivered in an on-demand course format. Blank’s approach to creating a business, which he refers to as the Lean Startup Model, was one of several concepts Chuck Eesley (the professor behind Technology Entrepreneurship I) introduced his students to, which helped contextualize ideas like Lean Startup and tools like the Business Model Canvas as one set of options among many.
I didn’t get as much out of Technology Entrepreneurship as I could have, but I blame myself. Its core activity was a project that involved groups of students self-organizing into teams where we would work together on the starting steps of creating a new company. This involved using a Business Model Canvas to map out important aspects of a business, such as what is the value proposition and who might actually hand over money in exchange for what’s on offer. Teams were also supposed to hunt down mentors who could offer the experience and reality checks needed to transform hare-brained schemes into realistic business plans. Finally, teams were tasked to do some “Hypothesis Testing,” that is, real-world experiments such as putting a concept in front of potentially paying customers and seeing if they shared the founder’s enthusiasm enough to hand over a credit card.
As you can imagine, students only got as much out of their projects as they put into them. And, unfortunately, I was one of those team members who both helped less and learned less than I should have. In addition to unsurprising excuses (including the juggling of six other classes), I have to admit that the team I was recruited into (made up of people interested in EdTech) ended up committing to a product that really didn’t grab me. Which meant my involvement with the effort primarily consisted of just giving advice (which decreased over time) based on my business experience in the education industry.
So while I take full responsibility for not taking advantage of the core activity the course was built around (a particularly egregious bad for someone who has been advocating the need for self-driven learning teams to enhance the educational value of MOOCs), there were issues with the course itself that should be noted for anyone else interested in participating in similar courses on offer from Stanford via NovoEd.
To begin with, this was one of those classes that seemed like a traditional LMS-delivered online course with the only modification being the decision to open it to the world. Canvas.net’s Understanding Cheating in Online Courses was the other course I took this year that had a similar feel, and I’m comparing both experiences to a less-than-stellar paid-for, normal-sized (20 student), graduate-level education course I took a few years back.
Like that education course, both Entrepreneurship and Cheating had a bit of an ad hoc feel to them, and the tools that LMSs provide to support everyone up and down a teaching hierarchy (students, teachers and administrators) seemed a bit unwieldy and confusing when applied to a single class taught to several thousand. Regarding ad-hoc-ery, it was never clear to me what I was expected to do from week to week in the class (beyond participate with my team in various steps on that aforementioned startup-creation project). Lecture videos appeared during some weeks and not others, and their content seemed to be driven as much by whatever guests Professor Eesey had managed to corral, which left me with a sense of not knowing what to expect from week to week.
Now there is an upside to an online course that allows the professor lots of flexibility. For the guests who visited to talk to us in Technology Entrepreneurship were a fascinating bunch. I particularly liked hearing from two guys whose research demonstrated the reason for 90% of startups fail (hint: it has to do with timing). And, as mentioned earlier, the course did manage to introduce us to a wide variety of ideas and theories around successful startup creation that are swirling around Silicon Valley these days (lessons I expect to use if I decide to get back into the entrepreneurship game myself after this project wraps).
With regard to the course interface, the NovoEd system had a nice set of thermometers which let me know which components of the course I or my team had completed. The trouble was, it wasn’t clear what some of them were or how I could impact them positively or negatively. It also felt as though owning a textbook that the course was built around would have added some cohesion to the experience. But as with most MOOCs, the book was optional and links to alternative readings or web sites seemed like they had been cobbled together as an afterthought, leaving this student at least feeling unsure of what I was supposed to be learning.
As mentioned previously, the student-centered team project was really the core of this particular MOOC, so again the reason I didn’t get as much out of this course as I could have was because I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain. But even a class meant to focus students on such a key activity could benefit from the course as a whole having a clear set of expectations and resources (video lectures, assessments, reading and other assignments, etc.) that integrate that major project into a coherent whole.
As LMS providers like Moodle and Blackboard start to look at the huge number of courses they already manage as the potential source for more MOOC content, it will become increasingly important for the people readying those courses for mass deployment to understand that creating a MOOC involves more than just opening up a class originally created to teach 30 students to thousands. The major MOOC providers don’t always get it right when pulling these pieces together, but they have done a good enough job at turning courses into intelligently designed packages with a clear beginning, middle and end. So those thinking of getting into the MOOC game have some experience to draw upon when trying to ensure that their courses seem like an organized vs. muddled experience.
Editor’s note: This guest post is from Jonathan Haber at Degree of Freedom, who is tracking his progress in trying to learn in just twelve months everything he would if enrolled in a four year liberal arts BA program and using only free resources. Along the way he is writing reviews of courses he completes, some of which he generously allows us to republish here. To get all of Jonathan’s MOOC reviews, and more, be sure to sign up for the weekly Degree of Freedom Newsletter.