Speaking Up for the Creditless MOOC

12 Dec

By Matt McGarrity

Last year I agreed to teach a public-speaking MOOC on the Coursera platform. I wasn’t a MOOC advocate, but I believe that the study of speech and rhetoric benefits individuals and society as a whole. I routinely offer speech workshops for civic and professional groups around Washington State. A MOOC on public speaking would allow me to run a speech workshop on a global scale.

I developed the course subsequent to the open letter sent by San Jose State’s philosophy department to Michael Sandel, the Harvard philosophy professor who teaches a MOOC on justice.  The San Jose professors rejected their university’s attempt to use Sandel’s course, JusticeX, because, in their words, “there is no pedagogical problem in our department that JusticeX solves.” They saw the massive open online course as subverting their own efforts to teach their students.

I certainly didn’t want my MOOC to be regarded as similarly invasive. I wanted to design a course that might be a useful resource for other public-speaking teachers, without having to worry that my class was eliminating jobs. I decided that my course would not offer any credit or certificate of completion.

Instead of thinking of this MOOC as a class in which I had to grade students, I viewed it as educational broadcasting, akin to a PBS show with interactive elements and a sense of community. I structured it like my for-credit course, but in the MOOC the assignments were optional. If participants wanted feedback, they could record and upload videos of their speeches, and receive evaluations through Coursera’s peer-review system.

Most of the people who signed up for my course had no need for college credit or completion certificates anyway. Both pre- and post-course surveys showed that more than 70 percent of the participants already held college degrees, with around 50 percent having advanced or professional degrees. Moreover, while U.S. residents made up the largest group, they were only 24 percent of the total enrollment. The story of my MOOC wasn’t one of currently enrolled U.S. students turning to the online course to augment or replace college classes, but midcareer professionals from around the world looking to sharpen their intellectual and oratorical skills.

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on December 12, 2013 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed


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