Saturday, March 8, 2014

What is MOOCstream?

Ramón Talavera Franco

English composition1: Achieving Expertise
In 2013, I submitted my application to study the Ed. D. program at Northeastern University. As a Spanish-language speaker who obtained my graduate and undergraduate degrees in my native language, I was concerned about not meeting the academic English writing requirements of a doctoral program. My prior academic writing consisted of two English composition courses taken six years ago. Therefore, I wanted to take an additional writing course before embarking in this new academic adventure.

While browsing the Internet, I found a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that caught my attention: English Composition I: Achieving Expertise
 (ECIAE). I didn’t know what a MOOC was or what to expect from it, but what struck me was that this course was provided by Duke University with no fees. How could a prestigious university such as Duke offer a free-of-charge course? Well, investigate was hooked. I signed up.
The syllabus of the course matched my interests and needs with topics such as:

1. What is academic writing?
2. Schools of citations
3. Editing strategies
4. Effective claims
5. What is an op-ed?

I got excited by these topics and felt drawn to the academic resources and assessments such as:

1. video lectures
2. reading materials
3. discussion forums
4. writing projects
5. peer feedback

The most intriguing part was how Dr. Comer would grade our writing projects. I quickly learned that I was among the thousand of students from all over the world registered in this course. Grading the writing assignments would not be easy. How would it be possible to effectively grade each assignment we submitted?

My excitement of finding a course that could help me improve my writing skills influenced my attitude towards it. I enjoyed every part of it. Comer’s video lectures were short and her instructions helped me scaffold my skills with clear examples. The reading assignments provided examples of articles we were to write rather than theoretical frameworks or grammar rules. Also, we read an excerpt from The talent code (2009) by Daniel Coyle. The chapter was not enjoyed by everyone (this isn’t a reading I’d seek in a library); however, the reading process, discussion among peers, and engaging with the author himself via Google Hangout was priceless.

An important course component was the discussion board. Through this tool we discussed weekly assignments and created a supportive community. The most encouraging discovery was that some of my peers were graduate students. One classmate was a high school English language arts teacher who registered in this course to inspire his students. He planned to share the course proceedings with his own students as well as his assignments. He wanted to communicate to his students that learning never ends, not even for a teacher. His observations were as insightful as my other peers’ remarks, questions and examples.

Another important resource was Google hangouts. Along with Daniel Coyle’s there were others with Dr. Comer. I had the fortune to participate in one with her and with four other peers from different parts of the world. It was enlightening to hear my peer’s feedback to one of my writing projects and to discuss theirs.

Equally interesting was the peer-review process. We were assigned 7 writing projects during the course and every project had to be graded by four peers. It meant that I had to read 28 papers and provide feedback to each one of them using the grading criteria and rubric embedded in the grading system. The first concern that came to my mind was how could I be able to assess my peer's assignments if I was in the process of learning? Also, I was concerned about who was going to evaluate my writing projects: an English native speaker, a foreign language speaker, a high school student, a Ph.D.? The answer to this concerns dissipated when I understood that all persons identified above could analyze my projects. Each feedback could provide valuable information to enhance my writing skills.

The 12-weeks course was student-centered and very stimulating. I gained three important things:

1. confidence
2. writing skills
3. knowledge of the innovative teaching and learning approach that the MOOCs offer.

It is worth mentioning that the confidence gained through the English Composition I: Achieving Expertise (ECIAE) 
course was the key element to overcome the academic writing load of my first doctoral program course. Dr. Comer, thank you!

Why am I sharing this story? Because I think that MOOCs fulfill in a contemporary way John Dewey’s (1859- 1952) vision of democracy in education. I share this vision and want to actively participate in it. Also, because MOOCs offer carefully crafted curricula so students can receive high-quality academic courses from the best universities in the world, tuition free. Furthermore, because MOOCs could help future undergraduate or graduate students to explore universities and programs, and pursue a specialization to those who finished college years ago.

Since I took the first MOOC, I became a fervent promoter of this innovative educational approach. I’ve been reading and studying closely this phenomenon, not to mention that I’m still registered in some MOOCs from different providers. MOOCs are fairly new and growing and evolving every day. After almost three years that the first MOOC was launched in this country at Stanford University by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norving, the MOOC phenomenon has been replicated rapidly all over the this United States, Europe and is starting to do so in Latin America. Why? I don’t have the final answer to this question and I don’t believe that there is only one, but I’m convinced that one of the reasons is what motivated me to take my first MOOC: the need to improve my knowledge and skills to achieve a specific goal.

MOOCstream was born to explore what factors drive somebody to start a MOOC, what constraints are found on the way, what are the topics that students around the world demand, and how and fast those preferences change. Also, it was created to listen to the instructional designers, teachers, administrators, researchers, journalists and all those participants in the MOOC world. I hope that this blog helps me analyze where the MOOCs stream go and where we all go with it.

Note: I’m still polishing my English so you are welcome to let me know my mistakes.


  1. Hi Ramon. I found your article very interesting and I enjoyed your passion for MOOCs. You may be interested in the new centralised MOOC forum and community website It's a platform for providers and consumers of online learning to meet, share, discuss and learn about all MOOC related issues.

  2. Carolyn,
    Thank you for your comment and the link to MOOCLAB. I'm interested in learning more about this effort. Hope we can still in touch.