It took long enough but I finally enrolled in and completed my first MOOC. For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, MOOC stands for massively open online course. I chose Web Application Engineering offered by Udacity and taught by Steve Huffman, creator of Reddit.com.
You might be wondering why I chose to take a class in a subject I should already be proficient in. First of all, the more I learn the more I discover that I don’t know half as much as there is to know. And secondly, I was intimidated by MOOC’s. This surprised me because I do most of my professional development through non non-traditional means such as iTunesU and ebooks. The thought of actually being graded and the possibility of receiving a certificate of completion made it feel like more of a commitment which both scared and intrigued me. So this was kind of an experiment in hopes that I could ease into it by choosing a subject that would be “easy” for me. This turned out to be doubly a good choice because I had a prior obligation during the same time frame to get ITIL certified for work so I was able to juggle both of these goals relatively well.
So I spent an hour before and after work every day watching videos and completing assignments. The class was structured as a hierarchy of a 7 of units. All the videos, quizzes and homework assignments were included in that hierarchy. From the first video in unit 1, I was taken progressively through the entire course, it was only a matter of clicking a ‘next’ button and watching the video or completing a task. This was a refreshing change from the way other online tools usually work where there is one link to click for the homework, another for the quizzes, anther for the videos, etc. I really liked this setup as I didn’t have to spend a lot of time clicking from place to place or, even worse, site to site trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing next. Also, once the task was complete, a checkbox would appear next to link so I wouldn’t have to manually keep track of what I completed.
I was very impressed with the videos which were short (less than 10 minutes) with clearly readable text. They had an up close and personal style (ala Khan Academy) to them so it was obvious these were filmed for an MOOC audience as opposed to the two hour, over exposed, taped lecture style that is prevalent in open courseware videos. All quizzes and homework submissions were graded by automated test scripts that provided immediate feedback although I thought the feedback could have been more verbose.
The class accelerated pretty fast and covered a range of topics. I think Steve did an excellent job explaining everything from basic HTML to more complicated subjects such as databases and hashes. It was also very interesting to hear Steve describe his experiences building Reddit, all of the architecture decisions that were made and the lessons that he learned along the way. I don’t know how traditional web development classes are taught these days but back when I was going to school there was nothing like this class offered.
Through the duration of the course I wrote two web applications, a blog and a wiki, in python and running on the google appenginge platform. I’ll be honest and say that I did have prior experience with both python and appengine but I did learn about other topics I knew nothing about such as hmac and memcached so it was well worth my time. I’m now about half way through my second MOOC on Coursera this time learning a subject I’m less familiar with and I think its going well. It’s becoming obvious to me that these MOOC classes are forcing me to learn faster and about more subjects than I would have otherwise. I’m pretty sure I’m now hooked on this new mode of learning.
P.S. I received my Certificate of Accomplishment With Highest Distinction from Udacity on Monday. Yay me!