Healthy Edutainment: Two Complementary Nutrition MOOCs
As someone generally interested in a healthy lifestyle, and also as a new mom of a very picky eater, I found two interesting Coursera MOOCs this summer: one on child nutrition specifically and one on nutrition and health in general. I decided to sign up for both to see which I would benefit from most. Each of these nutrition MOOCs handled the topic in different ways.
The first course, entitled Nutrition, Health, and Lifestyle: Issues and Insights, was offered by Vanderbilt University. It took an academic approach to the subject, providing a lot of good resources, detailed information, engaging assignments and lectures that covered controversial issues and misconceptions (e.g. about nutrient deficiency in vegetarian diets). Among the great resources shared and used in the course were various tools for calculating your daily intake of calories and nutrients.
I loved the assignments because they did two things to promote deep learning and engagement: first, the open-ended but structured questions encouraged reflection and analysis; second, they related each week’s material to your own life, so that you could directly reflect on how that week’s learning could help you live your life in a healthier way. One assignment had us looking at abstracts from medical journals on PubMed to help us decide whether the vitamin/mineral supplement we take regularly is really worth the hype. Another assignment helped us reflect on our current exercise habits (after breaking them down into sub-types) and to consider ways we could change our lifestyle so that we could develop well-rounded and consistent exercise habits.
Here comes the weird part. The assignments were not assessed in any particular way. You got the grade for doing it, but no one looked at it. They were not peer reviewed. They were not posted in any way that others could read them! Although I valued the reflection in the assignments as an end in itself, I found that very strange in a course. If I were to teach that course, the least I would have done would have been to encourage students to create a blog based on those reflections so that others could read them and respond.
The second nutrition MOOC I tried, entitled Just Cook: Child Nutrition and Cooking was offered by Stanford University. This was a completely different kind of course. It was laid back, akin to taking a cooking class. I thought this was an interesting approach to a MOOC, as it seemed to recognize that the target audience were probably busy parents. As such, the course videos consisted of the instructor cooking in her kitchen at home (with some of her kids showing up to taste and comment at times), while also teaching key issues about child nutrition. There were occasional slides with some written information or details of recipes.
The peer review assignments were practical: cook your own dish at home based on what you learned that week, post a picture and recipe, and then review the work of at least five others. This was a lot of fun, and I often reviewed more than five others, to get cooking ideas! The community discussions were also of course very helpful as we could discuss issues and experiences not directly covered by the course. The instructor also did a few “extra” things: she had guest chefs videotape cooking lessons for us (though really, one of them just cooked spaghetti in a tomato sauce!) and she created an online community for the course to continue beyond Coursera.
Now why would you take both these courses in parallel? The two MOOCs about nutrition took two different approaches that complement each other. The first one took a scientific approach, akin to getting tested on how well you remember this season’s Dr. Oz or The Doctors. The second was akin to watching a health food program on The Food Network. Both had flexibility on deadlines for the quizzes, and the first one even had flexible dates for the assignments. (Well, no one had to peer review them, did they?)
All in all, I found these two nutrition MOOCs a form of edutainment. If you enjoy Dr. Oz types of shows, and find yourself watching a lot of cooking shows . . . you are bound to enjoy these.