Finally, I succeeded to find the time and learn for 8 weeks in one of Coursera’s xMOOCs – namely in the Social Network Analysis course of Lada Adamic. In this xMOOC I was looking for three opportunities to learn:
- I wanted to experience learning in a classical xMOOC via Coursera.
- I aimed to learn something about Social Network Analysis – from 1992 on when I visualized scientific data with AVS I have loved nice visualizations, and in this xMOOC I wanted to learn how to create visualizations of social networks.
- And I wanted to be attentive if I learned something unexpected.
Learning in Coursera’s xMOOC
Learning in an xMOOC was not that bad as I was afraid of…
I had to watch many videos, every week 3 or 4, and I was alone in my learning process, as there wasn’t any group work or peer review – there were group work and peer review in the programming part but I focussed on the simulation part of the course. Unexpectedly I liked the videos well enough, because Lada shares her enthusiasm for Social Network Analysis in a disarming way. Nearly in every video she did some simulations with Netlogo or Gephi and I did the simulations simultaneously – so I was active and engaged during the videos.
At the beginning I watched the videos without being active – Lada explained a lot of definitions and conecpts – and I did well in the first quiz. But after 10 days I felt that I didn’t understand or remember anything and that my learning was rather superficial. Therefore over the weeks I learned to write minutes of the videos based on their transcriptions where I added translations in German and my results of the simulations.
The quizzes and homeworks at the end of each week were rather challenging (aside from first week’s quiz). I struggled with the re-translation of „normal“ English questions into the theoretical definitions and concepts of the videos. I did well when I had to do a simulation by my own using the programs and not that well in the other parts of the homework. In addition I was not that keen to read scientific papers in detail. Nevertheless I achieved the necessary 80% in every week.
As the learners could do their homework and the quizzes as often as they wanted, there was no feedback about right and wrong answers. It was a pity that I didn’t get the chance to learn from my errors.
The content: Social Network Analysis
At the start of the MOOC I was naive. I expected to learn how to extract data from my social networks, how to bring them into a useful program for visualization and how to visualize them. This was far too much.
In these 8 weeks I learned concepts and definitions around Social Network Analysis, I learned how to deal with the programs Gephi and Netlogo for visualization using the provided data material and already programmed code. Furthermore I understood a concept based on Social Network Analysis which explains why the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers in 2008 had a much bigger impact than the dotcom bubble some years earlier. (Andrew G Haldane: Rethinking the financial network).
But what did I „really“ learn (learn in a deep way)? The content in this xMOOC was very rich, I invested about 5-12 hours per week – and notwithstanding this commitment there was a lot of material I didn’t scan at all, e.g. the additional videos and additional reading materials.
Lada presented many different approaches to Social Network Analysis and her videos were full of examples from medicine, nutrition science, biology, economics, social networks. Sometimes I got a glimpse how she interpreted these networks by looking at the simulations and the mathematical formulae. So my mathematical knowledge came in useful.
Also my programming history was useful because nearly all the time the provided files didn’t work with the programs. Based on helpful posts from other learners I succeeded in replacing the outdated code. This was the only way I got into contact with other leaners, as there’s no list of learners in a Coursera course – or I didn’t find it. (It seems that learners wo did the programming as well formed a learning community).
Next week there will be the final exam of 2 hours – and I don’t have a clue how it will be executed apart from that I will not have to run a simulation (… which I did best during the course). So hopefully after the exam I will get the feedback if I learned something from Lada’s point of view. And then I plan to experiment with some of my social data. I will try to insert them into the visualization programs and analyze them. This will be my validation if I „really“ learned something in the xMOOC.
Did I learn something unexpected?
I really don’t know. During the course I was not that inspired as in cMOOCs but now at the end of the course my head is full of stuff, ideas, graphs, …