I signed up for a Harvard MOOC yesterday. My 60th birthday bucket list item about this reads “take a Harvard MOOC.” It doesn’t say anything about getting an A in the course or even about completing the whole course. Those goals notwithstanding, in the act of signing up for the course, I serendipitously and instantly achieved another one of my bucket list items.
Now done is “volunteer for a study.” Harvard’s free online classes are offered through an entity called edX, founded in 2012 by Harvard and MIT. The Consortium of 90 participating universities and institutions includes schools in the Ivy League and in the Big 10 and well-known institutions across the globe. When you create an account through which to take the courses, part of the user agreement is that you agree that your use of the site will be monitored for research on online learning. I also checked a box that gives researchers permission to contact me personally about my online learning motivations and experiences. Check!
I was getting a little worried about being able to complete “volunteer for a study.” The newspaper often prints requests (mostly from IU) for volunteers. Way back in September, when I was first starting work on my bucket list, I called to volunteer for one of these that was a perfect fit for my age, health status, and availability and was told they no longer needed participants. Shortly thereafter I responded to another notice in the paper and got the same response, even though I e-mailed on the same day the notice was published. Later I found a website that lists IU research projects looking for volunteers and emailed someone about one of those—same response. Volunteering was going to be harder than I thought! Spots in these studies evidently “sell out” faster than an Adele concert.
With my registration for a Harvard MOOC, however, the problem is solved. I am now officially providing data to edX through things like how long it takes me to work on portions of the material, my responses to assessments, and, yes, even my mouse clicks while I work on the course. We all know that almost every site you visit on the internet collects data about mouse clicks, as the ads that appear on your computer attest. And while it is disturbing that the internet knows what model of what brand of shoe you were browsing for yesterday, edX assures me that their goals are to study online learning and how to improve it. Online courses are relatively new and so, thanks to my volunteer contribution, things researchers learn from my MOOC learning experience should help me learn better by the time I’m working on my 70th birthday bucket list! A much more worthy result than being force-fed information about a shoe I have decided doesn’t fit.
Here is a news story from the Harvard Gazette that talks about results of their ongoing study as of April 2015. And here is the edX site that gives a short explanation of the questions being studied. This latter site also gives a list of published studies that have been based on this research. The one entitled “Can Physics Be Taught Like Soccer” was worth a click!