This week, the Coursera Greek and Roman Mythology class focused on Homer's Odyssey, Book 1-8. It was an insanely busy and stressful week for me and I had no time to re-read Homer (to my dismay). I did put aside a few hours on Saturday to watch the lectures for the week. These were chunked mostly in about 10 minute bits. I liked that. Since I was watching them one after the other, I think I'd have been ok with 20 minutes and a place to pause in the middle. But it's clear to me that 10 minutes really is a good guideline for "chunking" content delivery, even for a more "storytelling" kind of class. I have a very fast broadband connection and so didn't mind having to load new videos. It might also be that 10 minute videos are easier for students who have slower connections.
Peter Struck does an excellent job of delivering content in a memorable, clear, and interesting way. I learned a lot about Homer's Odyssey from him, and I could imagine using some of the bits I took away in classes of my own or, certainly, in interactions with our classics majors. This is a very high quality class and Dr. Struck is not "dumbing down" much of anything. I do wonder how non-English speakers are doing, particularly with the pace of the course. There is a lot to take in with each lecture: details, larger cultural history, and larger points about the narrative as a whole. As someone coming at this with a lot of previous knowledge, I find it pretty easy to keep up. I can imagine, though, that my own students would struggle a lot with the level of the class. That said, one post on the discussion board was complaining that the course didn't engage in enough substantive analysis. This criticism seemed to me entirely off the mark--it engages with analysis in a very sophisticated way, in fact; and several other students immediately responded that it was all they could do to keep up.
The quiz was based on the lecture and, apart from one question that popped up on my third quiz, it didn't ask about details not covered in the lecture. This seems like a good idea, though it does mean that students must be entirely self-motivated to do the reading. In my experience, this will mean that they mostly won't (as I didn't). This isn't the worst thing in the world--after all, a MOOC should introduce students to cool bits about ancient Greek and Roman myth. Dr. Struck also does a lot of close reading during his lectures for those students who are interested in reading. But if we assume, as many of us do, that part of what we are doing in university courses is getting students to read complex literary texts, well, that's probably not going to happen. Still, I was amazed at home much information can be taught in this format: sophisticated readings of Homer; important details about Greek culture (e.g. xenia); and an introduction to basic schools of interpretation of mythology (functionalism this week).
For this second week, I knew that I should take careful notes on the lectures as the quizzes would focus on details a bit more than on "significance" kinds of questions. One thing that I think would greatly improve the student experience of this course is embedded quiz questions. Not only would this encourage focused and active viewing of the videos, but it would help the student know what sorts of details to pay attention to. Especially in a MOOC, it seems to me very important to have frequent opportunities for students to test their understanding of the material and to receive feedback on any misunderstandings. Having student take a 20 question quiz after 90+ minutes of lecture is perhaps not the most effective way to encourage and improve learning. Specifically, it doesn't let students correct misapprehensions until after they have been "punished" by getting an answer wrong on the quiz. I am becoming a big fan of low stakes quizzing embedded in video lectures.
The quizzing system needs a bit of refinement. One question was missing a key bit of information needed to answer the question. Another question was testing material not covered in the lecture or reading. A third question was too vague and none of the answers really fit (I had taken very detailed notes and even when I consulted those, I couldn't figure out what was supposed to be the correct answer). If real grades were involved, the teaching team would have been inundated with emails and protests after both Quiz 1 and Quiz 2. As it is, I'm a little annoyed that I can't get a 20/20 because of these problems with the quiz set-up!