Initial impressions of a MOOC

Coursera opened the course Introduction to Systematic Program Design - Part 1. Here are my initial impressions. Although I’m not familiar with administrative, financial and technical issues of MOOCs, I’ll start a few points for those who are.

There are eight (!) TAs who have experience with the (in-house version of the) course. Kiczales promises: “There are TAs monitoring the forums nearly 24 hours a day, and our goal is to respond to errors you point out within a few hours.” Clearly, MOOCs don’t come for free.

There was some problem with the compatibility of videos (html5 vs. flash?) which shows that running a MOOC requires technical expertise and support.

Turning to educational aspects: In my Inroads article, I complained about the lack of textbooks for the MOOCs I studied. This course is based on a freely available textbook, How to Design Programs 2/e by Felleisen (winner of the 2011 SIGCSE Outstanding Contributions Award), Findler, Flatt and Krishnamurthi. Similarly, programming is done in a educational development environment (DrRacket) which is far superior to using a bare-bones compiler.

I was pleased to see that the first week included introductory lectures on stepping through a program using DrRacket and on using Help. I believe that such “meta-aspects” of programming important and should be explicitly taught.

Next week I’ll write on the homework assignments and quizzes.

Moti

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