Creating MOOC Courses

It is very likely that, in the near future, you may get your degree from a university but will really learn from a Massive Open Online Course.

MOOC (wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course) should not be confused with the streaming of traditional lectures over the Internet. These open courses are, or will be, as radical a departure from current education as the earlier replacement of personal tutors for the elite with public schools. As these courses are heavily dependent upon technology, especially software, it is very interesting to examine the software needed to create and run them.

For those interested in knowing the variety of courses now available on various sites, look at coursetalk.org. Another resource for more about MOOC, including its wider significance as a way of jointly exchanging knowledge, can be found at moocguide.wikispaces.com.

The video
The most obvious part of the MOOC is the videos, which have to be brief and engaging. Khan Academy is a great example. Salman Khan’s presentation on TED talks is an excellent resource for understanding why and how these videos worked. It seems so obvious, in retrospect, that you wonder why no one had done it earlier. Unsurprisingly, the radical change had to come from outside the community of educators!

To make such videos, the primary tools you will need are screen capture software, a sketching program and a tablet. In order to ensure that you do not have too many ‘retakes’, you will need video editing software. Although desktop recording tools will let you record the screen and audio simultaneously, you may find it more effective to create separate tracks for screen capture and audio, and then mix them.

You can find a number of open source and Linux options for each of the required software. Recording a desktop session on Linux is easy with recordmydesktop. For sound editing, Audacity is the default option. For video editing, the options include Kino, Cinelerra as well as vlmc from VideoLan, the creators of VLC Player. In order to make your video available to viewers from different language backgrounds, you could use subtitles. You can even get your viewers to create the subtitles for you (universalsubtitles.org).

The communications forums
An important part of learning is the ability to ask questions and get answers. Not everyone asks a question; however, everyone present in the class gets to hear the answer. The conventional method of a conversation between a student and a teacher would not be a viable mechanism where thousands of students are involved, although Google Hangouts and similar solutions can be an option.

One case study of a MOOC course found that of all the tools, the best loved was the mailing list! There is no shortage of open source options for mailing lists and discussion forums. There are also solutions targeted at Q&A (questions & answers) sites like StackOverflow. You may search for StackOverflow clones on StackOverflow to get an answer!

Those who like Python may opt for AskBot or OSQA.

In a number of courses, the best way to share assignments and analysis would be by using blogs. WordPress and Movable Type are the prominent open source solutions for blogs, but there are numerous other alternates.

The quizzes
Testing is the most irritating aspect of current educational institutions. However, you know from programming that testing is highly desirable and mandatory. Testing in software is not to test the programmers or categorise them—at least, I hope not! It is to ensure that the software does what it is supposed to do. In online education, video lectures are integrated with quizzes. The MOOC focus is the student—“I think I have understood, but have I?” Each brief tutorial is followed by a quiz to help you gauge if you have understood the concept just discussed. Currently, the handling of quizzes may involve just questions and answers. There are many tools that will let you create a quiz dynamically from a pool of questions. A good one is from the Khan Academy, github.com/Khan/khan-exercises.

However, smarter quiz and evaluation bots will emerge. For example, Hewlett Foundation sponsored a prize to improve the automated scoring of student essays. To be useful, the quizzes have to adapt themselves to the individual being tested—an obvious use of AI techniques. No wonder the breakthrough MOOC was a course on artificial intelligence and involved Peter Norvig, co-author of ‘AI: A Modern Approach’. You may enjoy the concise six-minute video of his experiences on ted.com.
Integrating it all

Google has a project called Course Builder to help you create a MOOC as an App Engine application. It is a good resource for the steps and the ideas that may need to be considered. Stanford has created a platform called Class2Go, github.com/Stanford-Online/class2go. With the variety of tools available, it would be easy for you to roll your own framework, quite possibly, by using Drupal or a similar CMS as the base. You don’t even need to wait for someone to create a MOOC to learn. One great opportunity for learning a new subject would be to create a MOOC by re-mixing existing content and sharing it with the world.

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